In August, 1831, a literate slave and Bible preacher, Nat Turner, led a rebellion against his white masters, in rural Southampton County, about a one hour drive south of where I live in Williamsburg, Virginia. After the 48-hour mass killing of 55 whites ended, Turner’s insurrection was eventually crushed, and tougher laws were enacted to try to prevent such slave uprisings in the future.
Nate Parker’s new film, The Birth of a Nation, is a fictionalized retelling of this tragic and violent story (deserving of the R-rating)…and just to think, the events depicted only happened less than two hundred years ago, practically in my own backyard. The film’s director is enveloped in controversy, and early reviews of the film are mixed. Intended to subplant the legacy of the 1915 silent film of the same name, a cinematic apology for the Ku Klux Klan, Parker raises a number of important issues, but one wonders what the film will actually accomplish.
Gospel Coalition blogger, Justin Taylor, summarizes some of the most significant elements regarding the history behind the film’s story. For more details on the history, you can start with the Nat Turner Project. Some historians are disappointed with the inaccuracies of the film, which frustrates me, as I am more interested in the actual history than I am in Hollywood’s fantasies. Does the film tell us about what really happened, or does it tell us more about the mind and state of contemporary pop-culture? How much of the film is about Nat Turner, and how much of it is about the film’s director, Nate Parker?
In the film trailer below, the Nat Turner character recites 1 Peter 2:18, in an effort to encourage his fellow slaves to keep in line. I confess that I, as do so many other evangelicals, tend to water this passage down:
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust (1 Peter 2:18 ESV).
I have euphemistically tried to replace “servants” with “workers,” and “masters” with “supervisors,” but does that really get at the original context? I am afraid not.
Slavery during the New Testament period is difficult to comprehend in modern terms, and it was very different from how many Americans viewed slavery prior to the Civil War. As I have argued elsewhere (here and here), many of my southern, Virginia evangelical forefathers did not properly understand passages like this either. Instead, they read things into the Bible that were not there.
If any Veracity readers end up seeing the film, I would like to know your thoughts.