'The Birth of a Nation': Why the new drama has Sundance talking

'Birth' stars Nate Parker as Nat Turner, who headed up a slave rebellion in 1831. The film is shaping up to be the hit of the Sundance Film Festival.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
'The Birth of a Nation' is directed by, stars, and is written by Nate Parker.

“The Birth of a Nation” may be the newest film to be launched to success by the Sundance Film Festival. 

“Birth,” which tells the story of the slave rebellion headed up by Nat Turner (Nate Parker) in 1831, debuted at the festival on Jan. 25. 

The film, which is also directed and written by Parker, has since received mainly positive reviews and, according to reporters, got a great reception from the audience at the festival after being screened.

Audiences responded to it in a way that was “rapturous verging on mythic,” Stephanie Merry of The Washington Post wrote. “Gorgeously shot and expertly acted, feels revolutionary.” 

Jeff Sneider of TheWrap called the film a “sensation,” while Deadline writer Dominic Patten wrote that it “electrifie[d] Sundance crowd… one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had at a movie theater.”

Fox Searchlight is reportedly close to a deal to secure the rights for the film. 

Some critics feel that “Birth" will resonate especially powerfully with viewers considering the recent controversies over police officers using deadly force against various black men. 

“It’s a film very much in tune with the current state of heightened racial friction,” Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter wrote, while Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “While our country’s never not had a time with racial tension, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ comes at an especially tense time – not just in Hollywood during the current Oscar season or on the presidential campaign trail, but far more importantly and urgently in most of our cities every day.”

In terms of the Hollywood community, the movie also arrives following the announcement of a field of Oscars acting nominees that are all white. Sneider noted that “’Birth of a Nation’ arrives at a time when Hollywood is eager to embrace an empowering story from a promising director of color,” while Forbes writer Scott Mendelson wrote, “There is potential for the relative success of a movie like ‘The Birth of a Nation’ to spark something of a greater good. The potential long-term good of the Academy changes could work in terms of getting films like ‘Fruitvale Station,’ ‘Chi-Raq,’ ‘Tangerine,’ and ‘Dope’ into the conversation as preemptive Oscar favorites, which in turn might make Oscar-hungry producers and investors more willing to fund said pictures.”

As for Sundance itself, if “Birth” is picked up for release and continues to receive good reviews, it would be only the newest movie to have found success after screening at Sundance. While of course some movies hit it big there and then can’t keep the momentum going, such future awards season favorites as 1995’s “The Usual Suspects,” 2009’s “Precious,” and 2014’s “Whiplash" appeared there.

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