Film Review: “The 24th”

Starring: Trai Byers, Aja Naomi King and Bashir Salahuddin
Directed by: Kevin Willmott
Rated: NR
Running Time: 113 minutes
Vertical Entertainment

“Death is the price for a night of justice…”

More so than ever, at least in my lifetime, African-American cinema and storytelling is pertinent to the world around us right now. As I write this, George Floyd was murdered nearly three months ago and the world got a firsthand look at the carelessness and brutality of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. A movie like “The 24th” serves as a reminder that there’s still a lot of work to do in America because our savage history isn’t that far behind us.

“The 24th” focuses on several weeks in the long history of the 24th U.S Infantry Regiment, one of America’s all-black regiments. Specifically, the movie turns its gazing eyes towards Texas, where the 24th is stationed, in August, 1917. With the eyes of the world on Europe and WWI, the eyes of the 24th were set on injustice all around them. Despite being soldiers who were ready to lay their lives down for America, they were soldiers and humans who were viewed less than by the people of Houston.

The first act establishes that the Houston Police Department and several citizens don’t respect the 24th, and the film shows the police and locals several times being the instigators of conflicts in the area. A lot of it is unsettling, but necessary. The problem with the first act, is that we don’t get to spend enough time with the 24th on human level. Before we can truly get to know each one of these men, we’re shoved towards conflict and a bitter resolution. Not to say that the conflict isn’t mortifying and riveting from a storytelling perspective, but it’d be nice to relate with these men before the final act.

Writer and director, Kevin Willmott, has proven countless times since his film, “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America” in 2004, that he’s able to handle race relations, and the history behind it, in a nuanced and powerful way. I tend to believe that his best work comes when he has someone else behind the camera though. “The 24th” is a harrowing movie movie, with some of the dialogue being near-perfect, accompanied by some excellent acting behind those words. The problem is, it’s not great and I’ve come to expect greatness after Willmott’s work with Spike Lee in “Blackkklansman” and “Da 5 Bloods.”

Regardless of my criticisms, so much of human history is forgotten. Sometimes it’s because it genuinely was inconsequential, and other times it’s because history is sometimes viewed through a lens. So how did the largest murder trial in American history seem to be forgotten? It wasn’t, it was simply ignored. Thankfully Willmott brought this history to life and gave viewers, like me, a much welcome history lesson.

Film Review: “The Birth of a Nation”

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer and Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Nate Parker
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars


When people have asked me my opinion of “The Birth of a Nation,” that is the word I’ve used most. The story, the images, the history…

A young boy is surrounded by family and friends. His chest bears what is described as “the mark.” He is told that he is destined to be a prophet and to lead. Born into slavery, the boy is taught to read by the wife of the owner of the cotton plantation he lives on. As “white” books are off limits, he devours the only book he is allowed to hold, the Bible.

Year later, the boy is now the man we know as Nat Turner (Parker). Soon he is leading his fellow slaves in worship. This occupation serves him, and his master’s (Hammer) well when he is hired by neighboring plantation owners to come and preach to their slaves to keep them in-line. Feeling uneasy, but wanting to help out the master who, for the most parts, has been good to him, he addresses the workers, quoting Bible verses that speak about serving your master and being obedient. However, after witnessing the horrific treatment of his brothers, Nat begins to get fiery in the pulpit. No longer does he preach about a God that demands obedience. Now he speaks of a God of love, who is also a God of wrath! A wrath that Nat Turner took upon himself to deliver.

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “The Birth of a Nation” is easily one of the best, and most important, films of the year. Like “12 Years a Slave,” it introduces audiences to a part of history that few choose to remember and many choose to forget. And the credit goes to its star, director and co-writer, Nate Parker who, surrounded by an amazing cast, tells the story of a true American hero whose exploits are often glossed over because of the way they were achieved.

Parker, resembling a young Denzel Washington, is flawless as Turner, often expressing his emotions, be they joy or sadness, more with his eyes then his voice. And, like Washington, he holds the screen with his presence. Hammer also excels as the owner who, when everything boils over, is just as hateful as all the others. As a slave hunter with a penchant for violence, Jackie Earle Haley is pure evil. The supporting cast, including Aja Naomi King as Turner’s wife and Penelope Anne Miller as the mistress of the plantation, also give amazing performances.

Technically the film is beautifully photographed and the musical score by Henry Jackman carries the film along and matches the visuals note for note. But the message here IS the message here. As the film nears its climax a young man exclaims that, “They’re killing black people for no other reason than being black.” Words from 1831 that continue to reverberate in 2016.