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Birth of a Nation Becomes Most Timely Film of the Year so far, Says Tapley

Birth of a Nation is Exceptional, Bold and Refined, says Kris Tapley, writing about the recent police shootings, Black Lives Matter and the police shooting in Dallas and how Nate Parker’s film echoes buried and unburied tensions.

Tapley sais, “Of course, it would be intellectually careless to equate the actions of Dallas shooter Micah Johnson with the retaliation of slaves against their oppressors. They’re not at all one and the same. But there is shared DNA between the emotions that sparked the two events.”

Because of its theme, because 12 Years a Slave won in 2013, and because Fruitvale Station dealt directly with police shootings and yet was ignored by the Academy (to mostly no outrage at the time, btw, because 12 Years a Slave was about to win Best Picture), Tapley felt it necessary to address what’s going on behind the scenes in our world of Oscar predicting. That is twofold – the first, wild buzz out of Sundance that this was the best film people saw up there, and then the follow-up that said “Oscar voters will feel too guilty about Oscarssowhite and thus, will vote for it out of obligation. It goes like this with every other kind of subject matter except those directed by, starring and made for white audiences. That doubles up the responsibility for black filmmakers. They have to be first the kind of movie that appeals to mostly white male critics who won’t feel that their cred will be ruined if they go for Oscar bait. The second hurdle, the film has to be politically correct to black audiences and white audiences. It has to be all three of those things to make it into the Oscar circle. If they manage to leap all of those hurdles, as 12 Years a Slave did, it then has to wrestle with “white guilt” – as in, “are they only picking this movie out of guilt.”

The hurdles are absurd and, to my mind, a way of keeping the status quo intact. Tapley says:

[quotes quotes_style=”bquotes” quotes_pos=”center”]Oddly, I’ve heard from a number of people in recent months who have attempted to douse the flames of the film’s debut in Park City, where it was met with a rapturous response. “It’s traditional to a fault,” I heard. “It’s waiting to blow up in the season’s face,” i.e., it doesn’t have what it takes to contend as an awards player, and that after last year’s #OscarsSoWhite dust-up, it’s a whole new controversy waiting to happen.

I couldn’t disagree more. Parker’s film is exceptional, bold, refined. The director’s own performance as Turner, easily his best work yet, is heart-wrenching and pure. Cinematographer Elliot Davis’ camera effortlessly lingers on powerful iconography throughout. Along with fellow Sundance bow “Manchester by the Sea,” it is one of the best pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year. In so many words, if this isn’t an Oscar contender, then I don’t know what is.[/quotes]

There is a lot of time between now and the time Oscar voters start filling out their ballots. It’s hard to know, as we head into November with the US election whether what’s happening right now with Black Lives Matter will still be a very prominent issue. Until there is resolution, until the shootings stop, it’s unlikely that it will recede any time soon.