October 5, 2016
The Birth of a Nation made me wonder: what if those who haven't experienced oppression read Scripture as if oppression was all they knew?
I'm glad you mentioned the prayer scene, it is the best scene in the movie.
The only trouble I had with the movie's usage of Scripture was how it really didn't seem to offer a third way. Granted, it might have been beyond the scope or purpose of the movie to develop someone who resists slavery non-violently or through other means. However, it was disconcerting the Bible was relegated to either justifying slavery or justifying redemptive violence. I don't think the movie made any attempt to end the movie ambiguously or assert Nat Turner was wrong. It seems clear he was being held up as a Christ-figure.
Excellent thoughts on the movie!
In Reply to Josh Crabb (comment #29281)
Thanks Josh. I'd mostly agree with your comments. Though offering a third way is probably outside of the movie's scope, especially given the historical story it sets out to dramatize, I do think it could have benefited from more ambiguity in regard to its perspective on Turner. I did appreciate the brief moment, after the killings have begun, when Turner involuntarily retches over his actions. And the film is also fairly honest about the failure of the rebellion, which undercuts the legitimacy of Turner's "prophecy." But overall, it depicts Turner's methods and means as carrying out the divine will of God (which, perhaps, is exactly how Turner saw it).
In Reply to Josh Larsen (comment #29282)
Very true. I'll be interested to see how the general movie going audience responds to Parker's strong message and portraying Turner as a hero. As I sit and think about this movie, I'm convinced the movie is necessary viewing in starting conversation about exactly what you brought up in your article about oppression and exposing privilege. A lot of people, Parker included, want this movie to enter more of a mainstream conscience in addressing modern racial tensions. I hope it does, but I am disappointed the movie was of a lesser quality than 12 Years a Slave and Selma.
Is the plan to talk about this on Filmspotting?
In Reply to Josh Crabb (comment #29283)
Yep - this Friday.
It's always interesting to see someone contrast Old Testament narrative with New Testament theology. The problem here is the example and teaching of the apostles is completely ignored. Like the Dutch in South Africa that carved out their own kingdom based on an Old Testament style covenantal arrangement with God, Nat Parker's approach to liberation is clearly not biblical. He claimed to be a liberator and drew from his interpretation of the scripture as justification for it. He set himself up as a liberator based on an O.T. template where Jesus liberated through his love, service and death. The early apostles followed his example by laying down their lives and turning the world upside down by preaching the gospel of the Kingdom with signs and wonders, not swords and shields. The Afrikaners went about subjugating those who opposed them the way Israel treated the Canaanites with death and destruction, supported by their theological interpretation of the Old Testament pattern. They believed that they were "chosen" by God to subjugate their "Land of Promise" and those natives they met there. This was obviously an unsupportable position proven both by a proper interpretation of the scripture as well as by the example of history. History is clear that Evangelicals were the driving force in liberating the slaves both in England and America but they would never have accepted the form of actions on either side of this issue that is portrayed in this movie. Slavery's wrong - so is armed rebellion. White supremacists groups have developed their theology to justify their actions but completely ignore Jesus and the apostles examples so has Louis Farrakhan. Nat Turner's approach can not be honestly compared with the Israelites because God was clearly liberating them by supernatural intervention. He told Moses that He would fight for him. Jesus told Peter to put away his sword and the apostle Paul said that our weapons are not human but supernatural. I see some Christians preparing for what they see as a natural war that will grow out of the current cultural war going on in America. Some even suggest that we may have to fight another civil war with guns and other weapons. They are just as in error as Nat Parker was. Jesus told his disciples that his Kingdom was not of this world and therefore his followers did not fight to free Him. Martin Luther King understood this principle and the Scriptures clearly teach us that the way to overcome evil is with good and the way to overcome hate is with love.
I thought the movie was largely compelling while watching it, but the more I reflect on it it seems largely like a missed opportunity. With this amazing historical story and with Parker who I think does a great job as an actor in the role, a lot more could have been done. (although this is unfair to Parker as he was the one who got the movie made.)
The most intriguing parts of the film are the scens of Parker's tours as a preacher. As a person of faith one cannot help but be moved to engage deeply with the question of what role religion plays in the realm of oppression and resistance.
More than the words that are spoken in these scenes, I think Parker is most compelling in showing us the struggle inside Turner as he tries to grapple with his relationship with his people while caught in an impossible situation. The movie as a whole does a good job of showing how being enslaved basically presented people with a constant series of impossible situations in terms of deciding how to live with dignity in situations where resistance meant death but going on meant suffering. And how these situations are made much more impossible when the death and suffering is not just of oneself but of everyone one loves.
I felt the struggle of Nat Turner with these decisions was captured well, but not so much what I think would have lifted the film higher, which was better capturing the relationship between Turner and God. I felt Turner struggling with humans in those scenes where they traded scripture back and forth but didn't sense when or if Turner was struggling within himself about what God wanted. Clearly the movie tried to convey some of this, but I just never felt it did so convincingly. I couldn't really tell you if the character in the film believed what he was preaching at the beginning and his own understanding changed or if he only did it because he had to.
There's a lot more that's worth discussing in the film, but this is one thing that really struck me.
In Reply to Abu Noor Abdul-Malik Ryan (comment #29286)
"The movie as a whole does a good job of showing how being enslaved basically presented people with a constant series of impossible situations in terms of deciding how to live with dignity in situations where resistance meant death but going on meant suffering."
I thought this was a strength too, and effectively captured by the way Parker's camera focuses on the furtive glances shared between the slaves, through which so much is communicated about suffering, compromise, and dignity.
Thanks for commenting.
In Reply to Bob Maddux (comment #29285)
Bob's comments are on point. In a post-Jesus world, I don't believe Christians are called to judge or take up arms, but as Paul wrote in Romans 5,
"1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Yes, slavery was and is injustice, but if we work within the world's view of justice and act on our own human will, it will always fail and make an even bigger mess. I don't see the peace in suffering in Nat Turner. Regardless of interpretation, Jesus was not concerned about the politics and systems of the world, and especially in this current political climate, we could all use daily reminder in Paul's writing: peace in the midst suffering.
I appreciate your comments Anthony.
How can I find the Dinner Prayer Nat said when his owner summoned several
people to his house and was has to give the prayer?
In Reply to Joe (comment #30471)
I looked around, Joe, and couldn't find a clip or transcript of that prayer. The movie is on video now if you want to check it out.
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