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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
It speaks to his ambition that the writer, director, producer and actor Nate Parker chose to title his slavery drama “The Birth of a Nation,” though the film would be a significant achievement by any name. Arriving more than a century after D.W. Griffith’s epic lit up the screen with racist images forever destined to rankle and provoke, this powerfully confrontational account of Nat Turner’s life and the slave rebellion he led in 1831 seeks to purify and reclaim a motion-picture medium that has only just begun to treat America’s “peculiar institution” with anything like the honesty it deserves. If “12 Years a Slave” felt like a breakthrough on that score, then Parker’s more conventionally told but still searingly impressive debut feature pushes the conversation further still: A biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror, it builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion and inevitable unease. But the film is perhaps even more accomplished as a theological provocation, one that grapples fearlessly with the intense spiritual convictions that drove Turner to do what he had previously considered unthinkable.
Certain to be the most widely discussed and rousingly received film in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance this year, “The Birth of a Nation” comes to us at a particularly fortuitous cultural moment; not unlike “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma” before it, the movie occupies that rare space where our ongoing conversation about racial injustice converges with the film industry’s slow-dawning awareness of the lack of diversity in its ranks. As a result, this artfully modulated but fitfully grueling picture presents both an obvious challenge and a potentially rich commercial prospect for a distributor willing to match Parker’s passion with its own. Careful positioning, too, will be needed to target open-minded faith-based audiences, and also to address the inevitable backlash in some quarters, given that the film presents its climactic violence in complicated but unmistakably heroic terms.
No film worthy of this particular historical subject could hope or expect to avoid controversy, and Parker’s well-researched screenplay offers its own bold take on the widely contested narrative of Turner, a Virginia-born slave and Baptist preacher who led the uprising that claimed 60 white lives and led to the killings of 200 blacks in retaliation, and served as a crucial moment of insurrection en route to the Civil War three decades later. But “The Birth of a Nation” commences long before those fateful events, with a series of scenes observing the Nat’s childhood on a cotton plantation in Southampton County, Va., owned by the white Turner family from which the boy took his surname.
In opening and recurring scenes that remind us of the land and traditions from which these black men and women were uprooted, young Nat (Tony Espinosa) experiences eerie dreams of his African ancestors, anointing him as a future leader and prophet as marked by the circular scars on his chest. “It’s not real,” his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) tells him when he awakens from one of these startling visions, though there’s no relief from the nightmare of their everyday reality — and as it is, they have a somewhat easier time than many of the other plantation slaves in Southampton County. Nat is allowed to run and play with the young Turner heir, Samuel (Griffin Freeman), and he’s treated kindly by Samuel’s mother, Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller), who, upon discovering that Nat can read, encourages his studies by giving him a Bible.
Years later, despite having grown up picking cotton alongside his family in the fields, Nat (now played by Parker, superbly) is a soulful preacher with enough of a rapport with his master Samuel (Armie Hammer) to persuade him to buy a young slave, Cherry (Aja Naomi King), sparing her from a fate even worse than what she’s already endured. Cherry is brought to the plantation, and before long she and Nat fall in love, marry and have a daughter, in scenes that afford a warm glimpse of their close-knit, God-fearing community. Far from sentimentalizing their experience, however, these moments offer only fleeting respite from a life of continual hardship and menace, whether it’s Nat making the mistake of addressing a white woman, or Cherry falling into the hands of the cruel Raymond Cobb (a terrifying Jackie Earle Haley), with devastating consequences.
It’s no surprise the white slaveowners are getting antsy, with talk of insurrection and rumors of violence in the air. Spying an opportunity, the sleazy, self-interested Rev. Walthall (Mark Boone Jr.) convinces Samuel to rent Nat out to other plantations as a visiting preacher, as many slaveowners will pay good money to have a black man address his fellow brothers and sisters, and hopefully quell any revolutionary impulses with a gospel of peace (aka subservience). What makes this development so bracingly ironic is that it’s Nat’s exposure to the appalling mistreatment of blacks in other parts of Virginia that convinces him a few encouraging sermons will no longer be enough. After a borderline-unwatchable scene in which he sees a slave being brutally tortured and force-fed, Nat experiences a reawakening. “I pray you sing to the Lord a new song,” he instructs his humble congregation, and it’s clear that he means to take his own advice.
Parker demonstrates a fine touch with actors (Dwight Henry, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith and Gabrielle Union round out the excellent cast), and his command of mise-en-scene would be impressive even coming from a more seasoned filmmaker. While the movie was shot entirely on location in Savannah, Ga., the visual reconstruction of antebellum Virginia is outstanding: From the drooping willows and white plantation houses of Geoffrey Kirkland’s production design to the muted, bluish cast of Elliot Davis’ widescreen compositions, the movie offers a vision at once nightmarish and painterly. As edited with measured intelligence by Steven Rosenblum (with the exception of one too-slick montage) and set to the stirring if sometimes overly vigorous accompaniment of Henry Jackman’s score, these images conspire to lure us into a world even when the barbarism pushes us away.
But the film’s most resonant element isn’t its physical realization so much as its spiritual and intellectual acuity, and it skillfully draws us into Nat’s endless internal debate as he presses himself and God about his next course of action. If “12 Years a Slave” astutely mapped out both the ruthless economic machinery of American slavery and the complicity of white Christians who used the Bible to cow their slaves into silence, then “The Birth of a Nation” delves even further into this unholy nexus of capitalism and religion, and Parker’s performance becomes a study in escalating outrage. A figure of warm, earthy saintliness for much of the movie, the actor (“Beyond the Lights,” “Arbitrage”) slowly traces Turner’s moral hardening by incremental degrees, driven by his deepening engagement with Scripture (“Do not become slaves to men,” he quotes at one point, and some believers in the audience might well also turn to “Faith without works is dead”). But he is also driven by his own worsening mistreatment at the hands of Samuel, whom Hammer convincingly embodies as a man whose decency turns out to be strictly conditional.
Turner’s own shift from Christlike grace to Jehovah-style wrath is not without its heavy-handed moments: One crucial scene, in particular, would play infinitely better without the obtrusive positioning of a stained-glass window, and the cutaways to Turner’s ancestral visions begin to verge on kitsch. But at its core, this is as intelligent and probing an inquiry into the uses and abuses of organized religion as we’ve seen in recent American movies, and also the rare slavery drama in which it’s the ideas, far more than the whipping and lynching scenes, that provide the deepest impact. Historians will have a field day debating the accuracy of the man’s dramatic trajectory (as they have since even before the publication of William Styron’s much-disputed 1967 novel, “The Confessions of Nat Turner”), and the urge to contradict a black filmmaker’s interpretation of history will of course be a hard one for many commentators to resist.
The most vigorous discussion will center on the film’s ferocious, frustrating and inescapably cathartic climax, in which the tremendous strengths of its classical storytelling, as well as its dramatic lapses, stand in perhaps the sharpest relief. Parker’s filmmaking suddenly shifts into the brutal, blood-soaked idiom of the war movie, in which various shades of moral gray are resolved in a queasy eruption of red (at the first Sundance screening, the applause that greeted certain killings proved as telling as the anxious hush that followed others). The Christ-figure overtones hover ever more stirringly, and disturbingly, over the movie’s final moments, and you may be forgiven if your mind drifts for a moment toward “Braveheart.” The movie can be forgiven as well. “The Birth of a Nation” exists to provoke a serious debate about the necessity and limitations of empathy, the morality of retaliatory violence, and the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality in this country. It earns that debate and then some.
Chief Film CriticPost Views: 69
By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Today’s REVIVE show topic is entitled:
“Police Brutality, Mental Health Effects, and More!”
I need you all to be apart of the conversation!
It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832. This episode of REVIVE will be an open forum so all perspectives can be heard through great conversation.
Did you know that May is MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH? This show entitled “Police Brutality, Mental Health Effects, and More!” This conversation will focus on the effects of trauma caused by police brutality, knowledge about mental health and eliminating the stigma associate with it, and educating people about the habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or heightening mental illnesses. This is a conversation that you do not want to miss!
Dr. Carlton Payne: Dr. Carlton Payne is the Chief of Psychology for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons. He was the first African American Psychologist in the history of the Philadelphia Prison System. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at La Salle University a Master of Science at Villanova University and a Ph.D. at Temple University all in psychology. He is the Assistant Director of Workshops for Teens, a former chair of the Association of Black Psychologists, a professor of psychology at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, Neumann College, Alvernia University and Camden county college. He has received five commendations from the city of Philadelphia for distinction in performance of duty. He is a member of the Fair Housing board, and was recognized for outstanding professional accomplishment, proficiency, initiative, and integrity when twice chosen as the Employee of the year.
Edith King: Edie King is a therapist and writer from the Greater Philadelphia area. She specializes in the substance abuse population, and believes “we’re all recovering from something”. Edie holds a Master of Arts degree in Counseling from Eastern University, and is also a National Board Certified Counselor. Her self titled blog focuses on mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and wellness.
Anthony Thompson: Anthony Thompson is know in the community as Supreme. He is a Charlotte N.C. native, he co- owns a Non-profit organization called I Am Great Minds Inc LLC. He is an advocate for change in our communities and amongst the people where it’s most needed. His organization strives for change. One of their main objectives is to help the way people think so that they can be more effective.
YOU CAN CATCH REVIVE EVERY SUNDAY 11 AM-1 PM & EVERY WEDNESDAY 8 PM-10 PM!!!
It would be amazing to hear your perspective. So please call in we want to hear what you guys the listening audience out there have to say always. Once again this show is for the people. We here at REVIVE thrive off of communication. So call us at (215)490-9832 & follow on Twitter and Facebook @REVIVE_POC !
WE NEED YOU ALL TO BE APART OF THE CONVERSATION!!Post Views: 48
By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Most data on how police communicate with citizens come from eyewitness accounts—from drivers, outside observers, and officers themselves. The new work sought to get around that subjectivity by using audio recordings. “It’s taking it from the realm of what any two of us might discuss over drinks at a bar to using the tools of modern science to get a more precise picture,” says John Rickford, a linguist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who was not involved in the work.
Stanford researchers started with body cam footage from every encounter Oakland police had with black and white drivers in April 2014. They transcribed what officers said at 981 traffic stops to come up with 36,738 usable “utterances,” or conversational turns. Next, they had college students read and rate about 400 utterances for how much respect they showed, taking into account what drivers said just before officers spoke. The students, who had no knowledge of the driver’s race, rated speech toward black drivers as less respectful than speech toward white drivers overall.
“The differences are subtle,” says Jennifer Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford and an author of the study. The language officers used with blacks was not “really disrespectful,” she says. It was just less respectful. One example on the low end: “All right, my man. Do me a favor. Just keep your hands on the steering wheel real quick.” On the high end: “There you go, ma’am. Drive safe, please.”
Eberhardt and her team then used software to rate the full set of 36,738 utterances. Even after controlling for driver age and gender; officer race; the crime rate and business density of the neighborhood; whether the stop resulted in a search, warning, citation, or arrest; and the severity of the offense (if there was one), more respectful language was used with white drivers than with black drivers, they report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Further, the analysis revealed that a white driver is about 60% more likely than a black driver to hear something from the top 10% most respectful utterances, whereas a black driver is about 60% more likely to hear something from the bottom 10%.
Those discrepancies can’t be fully blamed on a small number of officers, as they were seen in the majority of officers. Nor could they be attributed to the behavior of the drivers, as ratings showed discrepancies even accounting for what the driver had just said, and discrepancies appeared even in the first moments of an interaction. What’s more, given an equal number of utterances toward black and white drivers, researchers could train a computer to detect the race of the recipient with 68% accuracy.
Perhaps surprisingly, even black officers were seen as less respectful toward black drivers. “I think once they put on that uniform, there’s this pressure to be a cop and follow the norms,” Rickford says. But even if none of the results comes as a surprise, “what makes it such a phenomenal study is the methodology,” says James Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin, who reviewed the paper. He says that some people could come to similar conclusions based on the history of police violence—blacks shot and killed by officers are more likely to be unarmed than whites shot and killed by officers—but this study starts “at the beginning of the interaction.”
Pennebaker and others say the study could improve officer training. In a few years, for example, officers might receive an automated score after each stop, along with pointers on different language they could consider using. A body cam that nags about politeness might not be well received, but given that respect is often reciprocated, such a device could be a life saver.
To read more Click or Copy: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/body-cams-reveal-us-police-use-less-respectful-language-black-driversPost Views: 52