The undisputed critical hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival was The Birth Of A Nation, writer/director/producer/star Nate Parker’s cheekily named biopic about slave preacher and rebel leader Nat Turner. In his Sundance coverage, our own A.A. Dowd explained that early positive buzz was so intense the film “received its first standing ovation before a single frame had rolled.” The Birth Of A Nation went on to win both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance, and was eventually purchased by Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million. Understandably, a lot of people have been curious about the buzz-worthy film. So Fox Searchlight has released a first teaser trailer ahead of its October release.
Set to Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s anti-lynching anthem “Strange Fruit,” the trailer is full of evocative images of both the horrors of slavery and the humanity slaves were able to maintain despite their subjugation. In his review, Dowd cited Parker’s performance of “slow-simmering conviction” as the most powerful thing about the movie, and that’s apparent even from this trailer. When his owner (Armie Hammer) takes him on a preaching tour across the South, Turner begins to grasp the scope of brutality inflicted on slaves. That eventually motivates him to organize and lead a bloody rebellion, briefly glimpsed in the trailer’s final moments.
Elsewhere, however, Dowd found some shakiness in Parker’s direction. But his review ultimately notes, “If the filmmaker’s ambitions eclipse his means, both monetary and creative, a triumph of representation has still been achieved. In other words, the power of seeing this story—a slavery narrative of not just suffering, but also resistance—finally put up on screens helps compensate for some of its first-feature clumsiness.”
The Birth Of A Nation—which will likely be a big awards season contender next year—hits theaters October 7.