Sometimes there are films that have such a whirlwind of media attention and extraneous commentary that it’s nigh on impossible to discuss them in isolation. Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation was already hauling around significant baggage by re-purposing the title of D.W.Griffith’s 1915 film – which was technically revolutionary and morally repugnant – for a story of black rebellion. Then came its rapturous reception at its Sundance debut amidst the palpable outrage of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, subsequently marred by the ongoing tumult of charges made against Parker while he was a student.
The immediate catalyst behind his eventual rebellion – far from being predestined – is personal vengeance; whether that undermines or humanises the cause will be up to the individual viewer. In the hands of a more proficient, more visionary, or arguably braver filmmaker, this story may have resulted in a masterpiece, but subjective assessment of quality pales into insignificance compared to the urgency and passion of this endeavour which remains gut-wrenchingly powerful, not least through its chilling and upsetting climax.