I recently had the opportunity to see "The Birth of a Nation," a movie about a slave rebellion that happened during pre-Civil War era America. It was very emotionally compelling, and it told the story of Nat Turner and his rebellion well. However, as a person living in Milwaukee (a city affected by the recent Sherman Park incident), and as a minority, I couldn't help but think. Much of what took place in the film—which is set in America during the slavery era—seemed too much like what is happening in current America.
The film follows an enslaved preacher named Nat Turner who travels around Southampton County, Virginia to preach words of submission to slaves. As a result, he is exposed to the harsh reality and the cruelty of slavery. He witnesses everything from a man chipping off another's teeth to a child walking around with a girl on a leash. This, along with what he felt was inspiration from God, drives him to rebel against slave owners in Southampton County. The slaves go around killing their masters and freeing their people, and the rebellion culminates in a battle. The freed slaves are killed by a militia, and the rebellion is suppressed. Nat Turner is tried, convicted, and hanged subsequently.
The story itself is quite inspiring, but it was the details that made me ponder throughout the movie. There are so many parallels between the era that is being portrayed and the era that we live in now. For example, a recurring character in the film is that of the watchman. He goes around at night hunting for rogue slaves along with two other men, and he asks the slaves for passes from their masters. He is in no position of authority, but he feels that it is his duty to catch these slaves. I couldn't help but think of the Minuteman militia, a group of citizens without authority who patrols the U.S.-Mexico border and search for immigrants.
And Nat's entire preaching experience can be compared to the Black Lives Matter movement. With every case that Nat witnessed, things only got worse, until it finally caused him to snap. He got a group of people to retaliate, and they used any means that they had to make their message clear: they weren't having it anymore.
The way women are treated in the film also reflects how they are treated today. The white slave owners failed to see the women as equals, and instead saw them as subordinates. Some even went as far as requesting women for pleasure as if they were objects. Today, we have people running for office who think it's funny to make period jokes and others who think some women are "asking for it" because of the way they dress.
It's been centuries since the slavery era, and that's why it doesn't make sense to me that we can't move past the values of that time. Of course, there has been progress, but I use that term loosely, because the only thing that we've done since then is freeing people from slavery (something that shouldn't have existed in the first place). There is still discrimination in this country—there are still people who see themselves as better than others, and it makes me wonder whether or not we've really made any significant progress at all.