First of all, I want to apologize for that horrible play on words. I know, it's terrible, but I literally couldn't think of anything more appropriate for this movie. The Birth of a Nation is Braveheart with black people. I'm serious. That's the best description I have for it. It's a pretty good movie set around a violent historical event/period, which forgoes historical accuracy for the sake of pathos and making a myth out of the man at hand.
(It's hard to remove the meta-narrative i.e. the controversy surrounding the Director, Writer, and star, Nate Parker when talking about this movie, especially given that the real "rebellion" of the movie is set off by the sexual assault of a slave, but I will do my best here. Bare with me)
The Birth of a Nation tells the story of Nat Turner, preacher and slave, who lead a slave rebellion in Southampton, Virginia, but was ultimately suppressed. The movie unfolds with Nat's master taking him traveling, to use him to preach to other slaves and make money; Nat sees the scope of the the brutality of slavery, especially to women (ironically enough) and that pushes him into becoming the radical leader that he was, with a bible and a blade in his hand. Of course none of that is actually historically accurate, but the movie is really unconcerned with that. As said before, this movie plays like Braveheart, or maybe more appropriately, The Patriot, both of which completely forgo historical accuracy and subtly for the sake of showing off a massive jesus complex, and to have indignantly violent set pieces.
Parker portrays Nat with such grandeur it is almost impossible not to see the connections to films of Mel Gibson, whose, ironically enough, personal life and controversies also drastically changes the reading of his films. Truthfully this might bother some people but to me the first trailers hinted heavily towards this reality for the movie. This isn't 12 Years a Slave. This is a megalomaniacal movie that looks to make a myth/folk hero out of Nat Turner, and to showcase Nate Parker as an actor. And for what it's worth, it does all those things pretty well. While the narrative is a bit on the nose, it's played serious and well enough where the inaccuracies shouldn't turn anyone off (but it will of course). Despite how you feel about Nate Parker, he does a bang up job as Nat Turner, playing him with intensity and spirit, even if a little one-dimensional. The supporting cast, while mostly in the periphery as to showcase Parker, does a good enough job, with highlights from Gabrielle Union and Mark Boone Junior, as a slave and Nat's master and preacher respectively. The film looks great, relying on a blue and gray color palette for much of the movie and good camera work by Elliot Davis. The movie is GOOD, but when you have a film that operates as, "Hey look how awesome Nat Turner was, and look how awesome Nate Parker is as Nat Turner" it can only be so good before having some narrative and pacing problems, but it sticks its execution, MOSTLY.
I have no interest in trying to convince someone who is boycotting this movie to go and see it. If you're not, ok. If you are, ok. The rape accusation surrounding the film is something that affects the viewing of this move, that's for sure, but when judged on the quality of the movie by itself, I found it to be pretty good, if not obviously flawed.