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'The Birth of a Nation' trailer: Powerful first look at Sundance sensation

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The Birth of a Nation is one of the most complicated names in the history of cinema, and it’s only about to get more complex. It first was the title of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, which both valorized lynching and revolutionized filmmaking (and debates continue to this day about what the movie’s legacy should be). 

Now, that title graces a new movie, a dramatization — written, directed, starring, and produced by The Great Debaters actor Nate Parker — of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion. The movie won raves at Sundance, earning the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, striking a record-breaking $17.5 million distribution deal, and even kickstarting early Oscar hype. Now the first trailer is available for the first time to anyone who didn’t make that festival. 

Set to Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit,” that classic account of lynchings in the South, the trailer showcases beautiful shots of cotton fields alongside the everyday atrocities of slavery (such as a white girl “playing” with a slave girl on a leash). Eventually, Turner has enough and starts preaching a gospel of rebellion, telling his fellow slaves to “sing a new song”… leading to a violent confrontation with their white oppressors. 

Watch the trailer above. The Birth of a Nation is out Oct. 7.