‘Birth of a Nation’ Is a ‘Powerfully Affecting Film’ That ‘Deserves to Be Seen,’ Critics Praise

Nate Parker’s film has been plagued with controversy but that isn’t deterring critics from giving it great reviews

Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” is a “powerfully affecting film” that “deserves to be seen” despite the controversy surrounding the director’s 1999 rape trial and acquittal, critics say.

The movie, opening Friday, has a “fresh” rating of 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and is getting hailed by critics for the “strength of the story, the themes, or the acting,” along with Parker’s performance starring in the film as well as writing and directing the drama.

“While the attention given Parker’s college sexual assault charge (of which a jury cleared him), and his controversial responses to it, are likely to continue coloring discussions of the movie’s merits, it should be noted that ‘Birth’ is an imperfect but laudable debut for a first-time filmmaker,” wrote TheWrap’s film critic Robert Abele.

Starring Gabrielle Union, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer and Penelope Ann Miller, this weekend’s opening of the Sundance darling is shadowed by a rape case Parker became embroiled in at Penn State nearly two decades ago that saw him acquitted on charges from a now-deceased accuser.

See 9 of the most raving reviews below.

James Berardinelli, Reel Views:
“‘The Birth of a Nation’ is harrowing, compelling cinema – perhaps not as wrenching as ’12 Years a Slave’ but not far removed. Although off-screen revelations about an event from Parker’s past may limit the movie’s awards expectations, they change nothing about the strength of the story, the themes, or the acting. The film stands tall on its own merits and deserves to be seen irrespective of the perceived failings of its author.”

Kyle Smith, New York Post:
“‘The Birth of a Nation,’ titled with an ironic act of cinematic jiujitsu that recalls the 1915 white-supremacist blockbuster of the same name, is a marvel of controlled fury by Nate Parker, who stars as Turner and also produced, wrote and directed this necessary and powerful film about a revolt by slaves against an evil white power structure. Both broader and deeper than the relentless and monotonous ’12 Years a Slave,’ it’s one of the few important movies to hit cinemas this year.”

Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle:
“There are images, however, in ‘The Birth of a Nation’ that are so potent, disturbing, and visually precise that they will be seared into my memory for life. That’s no small accomplishment.”

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly:
“Even as ‘Birth’ stumbles in its more overwrought moments, it’s almost impossible not to be moved by what he’s made: a flawed but powerfully affecting film by a flawed but undeniably gifted filmmaker.”

Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News:
“Writer-director Nate Parker backs up this bold provocation with a measured but devastating movie that haunts the imagination and conscience. But ‘Birth’ is also, in its own unblinking way, a deeply spiritual film that takes the malleability of spirituality as its primary theme.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times:
“He has attempted something grand and accomplished something real. The movie, uneven as it is, has terrific momentum and passages of concentrated visual beauty. The acting is strong even when the script wanders into thickets of rhetoric and mystification. And despite its efforts to simplify and italicize the story, it’s admirably difficult, raising thorny questions about ends and means, justice and mercy, and the legacy of racism that lies at the root of our national identity. There is still a lot of reckoning to be done. ‘Birth’ is a messy business. And so is what comes after.”

Mike LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle:
“If you see ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ do give some thought afterward to what it might have been, an action drama in which the villains got the wrong guy angry. This is something much more sophisticated, a two-hour walk in a slave’s shoes. It takes a condition that we have all thought about historically, politically and even dramatically and makes us actually feel it and live it. That’s a serious achievement.”

Dann Gire, Chicago Daily Herald:
“Parker’s project would be impressive enough as a first feature, but him being its co-writer, producer, director and star pushes it into an amazing achievement.”

Josh Lasser, IGN:
“With ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ Nate Parker has shown himself to be a confident, extraordinary filmmaker. He not only gets good performances from his cast, but has created a film that seems sure of itself, one that knows when to lean into depicting hatred, when to lean into depicting love, and when to cut away; when the look on a face is more important than the blood on a back and when it isn’t. Although not an easy movie to watch, it is a powerful one, and well worth the emotional investment it asks of its audience.”

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