Nate Parker starred, directed, and co-wrote this very violent and intense film. Nat Turner’s story is well known, so I won’t be concerned about giving away the plot.
Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was a gifted child who was taught to read certain sections of the bible by his slave owner’s wife, Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller). He became religious, but when Elizabeth’s husband died, Nat then primarily toiled as a typical slave field worker. He would, however, still preach on Sundays to the other slaves on the plantation.
Samuel Turner (Arnie Hammer), Elizabeth’s son, becomes responsible for running the plantation, but times are very hard and he is going into debt. Samuel earns some extra money by having Nat preach to slaves on other plantations in order to help keep them under control, since the slaves are becoming agitated by their horrible living conditions (such being whipped for minor infractions and practically starved to death). Compared to the other slave owners depicted in the film, Samuel’s treatment of Nat is still much better than their treatment of their own.
Nat convinces Samuel to buy a female slave, Cherry (Aja Naomi King), who had been brutally assaulted by slave catchers. She is sent to live on a nearby plantation. Nat and Cherry fall in love, get married, and have a daughter. Terrible things (rapes, brutal beatings, murders) subsequently occur to many slaves, eventually causing Nat (quite understandably and justifiably) to reject his previously peaceful religious beliefs in favor of becoming an avenging angel. He has visions and believes his is being called by God to rise up against his oppressors!
In 1831, Nat, filled with spiritual fervor, leads a handful of slaves in a brief, ultimately unsuccessful slave rebellion.
The film is timely, considering the current focus on race relations, police brutality etc., but the movie is slow and the final 30 minutes were way too violent for me. Nevertheless, Nat Turner is an important figure in American history and deserves to be recognized. It’s an OTBR, but I’d rent it only if the subject is of interest to you. If you would like to learn more about him, I’d recommend a book, such as “Nat Turner” by Kyle Baker.