I could go on for awhile about how incredible every aspect of this film is, from the stunning cinematography, to the direction, the score, the writing, the performances and brilliant casting, but there are two main aspects I would like to highlight in this review.
I was struck in the first 20 minutes at a scene in which Nat Turners father is humiliated by White land overseers for trying to get food for his. This scene played like a mirror reflection of the hundreds of Black men who have been, lynched, tortured and murdered in the last 3-4 years for doing nothing but being Black and alive.
When I was a young girl watching “Roots” for the hundreth time in the late 80s, I did not feel the closeness of these atrocities breathing on my neck the way I did in the theater on last Saturday afternoon. Not all the Gil Nobles and “Tony Brown’s Journals” and “Eyes on the Prizes” kept me from feeling like I couldn’t still walk the streets freely and ignorantly, feeling that that we had made sure progress, that that was then and this was now and that as Blacks, we were now protected by freedoms we were once deprived of. I knew then with the certainty and privilege of the sheltered that things could never slide back into that horribly inhuman time not so long ago when my people were slaughtered for wanting to drink, eat and go to school with people who were taught to believe we were less than human.
But here we are in the middle of one of the most sadistically surreal and nightmarish election cycles between two candidates; one, an outlandishly unqualified racist, sexist bigot and the other insidiously deceptive, corrupt and elitist, neither of whom I can get behind with the remotest of enthusiasm. We have been recorded being shot and killed, choked and beaten at the hands of an insane and pathologically fearful Police force and the jails are being filled with Black men and boys at the highest rate ever to make corporations rich.
For most Black people watching BOAN, the only difference between Black slavery in the America of the 1800s and 2016 may seem merely like the change of date. I could not, no matter how hard I tried distance myself from the constant fear in my chest that erupted each time Nat Turner was afforded the kind of experience that every human being has the right to; learning to read, earning the role as a servant of his people through his preaching of the Bible, falling in love, getting married. I went to see the film with SoulSistah4real and we did our share of moaning, sighing, humming and everything short of rocking ourselves to keep from feeling so deeply what we feel on a regular basis whenever we learn about the next Black person who had their lives taken by someone who was challenged by their right to exist.
And then there’s BOAN’s stance on Christianity. Never before have I seen such an indictment of Christianity’s role in our mental slavery. But perhaps it was only overtly clear to me because I have Black people around me who constant feed me with information to support this truth. By the time I saw this film it was like a glaring confirmation of what has already become clear to me. When they gave us the Bible, they took us for real. It’s much easier to free someone physically than it is to free their minds. White people stay knowing this, even on a subconscious level. They are the masters of mind fucking. That’s what “Mad Men” is predicated on after all. That’s what the whole survival of the White race has always rested on. Bamboozling, swindling, stealing, robbing, poisoning, swapping out our connection to the divine with a symbol and valuing the worship of that symbol above all things, using it to justify all kinds of crimes, perversions, wars and genocides.
The use of score in edition to several beautiful visual elements, illustrating the spiritual connection of Nat’s selection as a prophet and leader of his people to ancient African oracle is undeniable and beautiful. Wherever there was a reminder, a token, anything to remind the viewer that the ancestors were present, moving Nat towards his destiny, I felt elated.
To witness the evolution of Nat Turner’s disillusionment with the ways in which his learned connection to God through Christianity has been pawned at the hands of his own Master and a crooked pastor, is to watch most of us flailing on a daily basis in a void, trying to make a home out of no home, trying to claim a right to rights that were never meant to protect us, trying to claim our rights as Americans in a land our forefathers were stolen to build when the word American was never meant to describe us. It is to see the way in which we have been and still are truly enslaved by Christianity.
I would recommend this film to everyone. I think it should be used as an educational tool and that class trips should be planned to go see it. It is the first major release of an American slave narrative film of this era that I know of, which brilliantly depicts resistance in slave rebellion as more than just the breaking of physical chains and the literal removal of oppressors. It does this with humanity, vulnerability, passion, love and fearlessness. It starts what some may deem to be a controversial discourse about exactly how far America has come around issues of racism, law enforcement/enslavement amd true liberation for Black people. If America has just been trading one form of enslavement in for another, what does Black liberation really look like?