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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.3, 453 ~ 469, 2018
Changing Identities and the Legacy of Black Fanaticism in The Confessions of Nat Turner and Two Films Entitled The Birth of a Nation
Seongeun Jin
Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 was considered pre Civil War South’s most dreadful nightmare due to the merciless murder of white slave owner victims. The motive of vengeance has been emphasized as that of Turner’s notorious black preacher religious fanaticism. However, the recent film, The Birth of a Nation (2016) directed by Nate Parker, utilized the identical title of a film (1915) directed by D. W. Griffith. Providing limited evidence, information about the rebellion in Thomas Gray’s pamphlet The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831), was the only accessible historical source for the factual event of the slaves’ rebellion. In addition, William Styron’s The Confessions of Turner (1967), a fictionalized biography, also examined Turner’s life in the harshness of slavery. Although these two texts deal with the personal level of Nat Turner’s rage and religious enthusiasm, both provide only fractured parts of the motive of vengeance. Strikingly, Parker’s film interrogates the ideology of “victims,” as well as the hierarchical term of “confessions,” with their different positions between whites and blacks. More specifically, Parker’s film offers discursive fields of proslavery arguments regarding biblical interpretations in addition to external visualization of slaves’ inner emotional lives. The film demonstrates how the institution of slavery allowed slaves to be exploited, beaten, raped, through interrogating the problematic image of the “contested hero” Nat Turner. In contrast to the traditional image of blacks’ bloody rebellion, the film underlines the absurdity of certain Biblical misinterpretations. It furthermore implies how the 1915 film manipulated proslavery propaganda in America.
Key Words
The Birth of a Nation (2016), The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967), Slavery, Contested Hero, Vengeance
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