Birth of a Nation: The Problem

The Original BJ
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Re: Birth of a Nation: The Problem

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:59 pm

I think the issue with The Birth of a Nation in terms of awards season is that it might have succeeded despite being a mediocre effort given the great narrative of a young black actor-turned-filmmaker mounting his dream project... OR it might have succeeded despite the rape story/bad press if it had been a more widely acclaimed piece of film art. But I think the combination of the two -- so-so effort, dreadful behind-the-scenes narrative -- has proven fatal. And I heard the valid comment the other day that the Venn diagram of people who would want to support a serious historical film about the black experience in America and those who would NOT want to support the work of a man who might well have sexually assaulted a former girlfriend is basically a pair of overlapping circles, which has certainly impacted box office. (For what it's worth, I saw the film opening night a couple weeks ago, and there were protestors outside my theater.)

As for the movie itself, I'm in agreement with Mark Harris's tweet a while ago that it's better/worse than I'd been told, depending on who I was reading. The story is obviously an important one in American history, and there's an innate power to the material that's undeniable. I certainly don't think there's anything embarrassing about the filmmaking or performances, despite it clearly not being in a class with the artistry of 12 Years a Slave. But, as with Loving, The Birth of a Nation is another recent historical movie that just doesn't feel shaped by a writer with a unique take on the subject matter -- for me, I think a movie needs to be quite a bit deeper than "slavery was awful," which felt like the main takeaway with which Parker was intending to leave his audiences here.

Despite my under-consensus reaction to Moonlight, I will say that I'm glad that film seems to have stolen quite a bit of this one's thunder -- Jenkins's film, in addition to being far more artfully made, seems to have inspired real enthusiasm among critics (and it seems, limited release audiences) based on the actual movie onscreen. That, for me, is always preferable to a film elevated simply because its subject matter is important, which is what I feared could have happened with Birth of a Nation had there not been better options folks could look to to celebrate racial diversity this season.

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Re: Birth of a Nation: The Problem

Postby OscarGuy » Mon Oct 24, 2016 10:18 pm

Perhaps my evidence is anecdotal, but I've heard from critics who were at Sundance and others who have spoken with those same people, but the film received its wild ovation BEFORE it actually screened. Most of the people who saw it weren't nearly as impressed as the post-fest buzz would have you believe. Respectable, sure, but it wasn't nearly as well received as early reports would have suggested.
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Re: Birth of a Nation: The Problem

Postby Mister Tee » Mon Oct 24, 2016 9:30 pm

It turns out I liked this more than I expected, and can see why it was well-received at Sundance. It's a perfectly decently crafted film, and moves along engagingly enough. There's not much art to it -- it's certainly light years from 12 Years a Slave -- and I don't think the film provides any more moral context for the brutality of Turner's revolt than your standard Charles Bronson movie (however evil the system of slavery was, when Turner starts hacking people with axes, it's hard for me to feel anything but horror -- or, if I were a different sort of person, bloodlust). But overall it's not the crude work I was fearing from some of the reactions; it's respectable.

At this point, the film is more interesting as cultural signpost than work of art. It's fairly amazing to see a film fall this far in such a short period. As late as August, people thought this was a potential best picture winner, and Parker no doubt envisioned himself in the Beatty/Clooney category with nominations for acting/writing/directing. A few tone-deaf interviews later, and all that has evaporated: the movie was mediocrely reviewed, and is such a financial dud there's little hope of the Academy biting. I think there's a good chance this might all have happened even without the rape publicity -- the movie was always going to suffer by comparison to McQueen's film covering similar territory, and even that film broke no box office records. And it turns out there are other, better-received films to carry the African-American flag at the Oscars (Moonlight for sure, perhaps Fences to come), so the slot that seemed certain for it in January may no longer be available.

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Re: Birth of a Nation: The Problem

Postby Okri » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:26 pm

AFI cancels screening

Though it could come back; a spokeswoman refers to it as a "postponement."

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Birth of a Nation: The Problem

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Aug 16, 2016 8:38 pm

I mentioned earlier that I was dubious about this film simply on esthetic grounds. The Sundance huzzahs seemed very much in response to the hoo-hah over #OscarsSoWhite, with a significant number of critics indicating lukewarm reaction but predicting big Academy support because, well, politics. (A friend of mine who's in distribution says it's powerful but crudely made -- not in the same ballpark as 12 Years a Slave.)

But I'm afraid all that's going to be buried now, thanks to reports on a 17-year-old incident in Nate Parker's life -- an incident that was somewhat mentioned back in winter, but has now exploded all over the Hollywood trades and is getting this season off to a super-ugly start.

The link below is quite long, the most comprehensive account I've found. (The Hollywood trade stories came in several parts, because a key fact apparently wasn't common knowledge till late today.) Sorry to all those who resent having to wade through such muck. I felt the same, but it's factual stuff that's now unavoidable.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2 ... -case.html


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