Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation is notable for its unflinchingly violent look at slavery in the antebellum American South and the Nat Turner-led slave revolt that inspired the film. However, according to composer Henry Jackman, who provided the film’s score, he and Parker set out deliberately to undermine any visceral thrills audiences might otherwise get from such cinematic violence, aiming instead to provoke reflection.
“I saw an early version of this film in which in the temp track was aggressive action music,” Jackman said today in conversation with Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. at Fox Searchlight’s presentation at Deadline’s the Contenders event. “I sat down with [Parker] and said, ‘I think it’s really important in the third act of this film that the nature of the uprising has to feel spiritual … it’s almost sacrificial. They’ve already lost. It’s not really a battle scene, it’s a scene about the triumph of enough brave people to stand up against something that is so oppressive that there’s no other means.”
This meant avoiding stirring blockbuster action music in favor of something almost religious in character. “Musically speaking, I was arguing that when the uprising starts, a more spiritual angle was needed. The important thing was you should never see his vengeance … you shouldn’t feel bloodlust,” Jackman said. “You should be thinking in a slightly more philosophical way that sometimes there is no other option than to have an uprising, and in an uprising there is violence. And that’s why there’s a lot of choral to try and help the audience understand that it’s not really to do with vengeance.”
Directed, written by and starring Parker, the film also stars Armie Hammer, Colman Domingo, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller and Gabrielle Union.
Today’s Fox Searchlight presentation also included a conversation with Jackie editor Sebastian Sepulveda.