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mv5bmtu5mji3nzqxml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtuwnjyyote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Over the last couple of years, the story of slavery made a comeback as feature film and tv material, with Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” probably still the gold standard. It became that standards, I believe, because if exceptionally skilled directorial skills and outstanding actors. While the fact that it was based on a true story may have contributed to the hype, I’d rather believe that it succeeded despite the shackles that reality usually puts on stories. “The Birth of a Nation” has a similar starting point, using events that are now referred to as the Slave Uprising of 1831, when slaves led by Nat Turner from Virginia tried to break free. A little Spartacus, a little Braveheart, a little Twelve Years a Slave, of course.

The way this is narrated, with the focus on a character who sets out as a slave preacher, and ends up a freedom fighter, is less inspiring than the “12 Years” example, though. After watching this, I had to struggle remembering remarkable moments, emotional turning points or moments of being wowed by one of the actors. It plays out rather straightforwardly, the way you expect it to do after learning about the setting. There are some grueling moments of violence (the teeth… oh my, that’s one to haunt me), and there are ambiguous and weak characters (such as farm owner Sam) but I never felt that I am all too familiar with the characters and their motivations, never felt I was embraced by the story and the drama. I could even imagine that this is intentional, indicating that what happened did not happen in a cinematic way, but the way life works, as a succession of individually less than glamorous or dramatic events that somehow lead to a tipping point. It still means that the film never really dragged me in. I felt like reading an illustrated history text book, rather than a dramatization, missing the cinematic qualities of Steve McQueen’s effort. It’s not a bad film, it just is not all too remarkable in retrospect.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_birth_of_a_nation_2016

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