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Review of a Troublesome Property by Nat Turner

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Nat Turner's slave rebellion is a watershed event in America's long and troubled history of slavery and racial conflict. Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property tells the story of that violent confrontation and of the ways that story has been continuously re-told during the years since 1831. It is a film about a critical moment in American history and of the multiple ways in which that moment has since been remembered. Nat Turner was a "troublesome property" for his master and he has remained a "troublesome property" for the historians, novelists, dramatists, artists and many others who have struggled to understand him.

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Due to the fact that there were no slave laws, the slaves often rebelled against their masters. As a result of such rebellions, there was a discipline problem that led many owners to perceive their slaves as “a troublesome property.” The three areas that the slaves had trouble with their owners were religious behavior, interpersonal relations, and work. With regards to religion, many slave owners, such as, Zephaniah Kingsley and Judge Wilkerson believed that religious expressions were a form of independence and would threaten slave control. They believed that their slaves’ would become more empowered and have more bravery and be more difficult to handle and more disobedient. However, other slave owners believed that it should be used as an instrument of control. When slaves were actually able to attend Christian services, it was by a white minister who taught them to obey their masters in order to be saved by God. However, if they disobeyed them, they would not be saved, but destined for damnation

Another aspect, in which there was controversy, was with interpersonal relations. Slave owners believed that if the slaves were married and maintained a family that it would lead to good behavior and higher productivity. Yet, there were many slave owners who did not want their slaves marrying other slaves from different plantations. Nor did these slave owners want their slaves having other slaves visit them or vice versa. The only reason that those slave owners eventually complied is for the fact that the number of male slaves on certain properties began outnumbering the number of female slaves. Slaves were then only allowed to marry if they vowed to remain loyal to their masters and kept working efficiently. The work patterns of the slaves were another aspect that caused controversy. The legal system that gave planters absolute power was said to not ensure effective control of the quality or quantity of work performed. Slaves often resisted and insufficient supervision intensified problems. As a result, Slave owners were forced to compromise with the slaves; allowing slaves to report to work after sunrise and to work under less-immediate supervision than other plantations had. Gang systems were also implemented to increase the efficiency and productivity of the workers. Nevertheless, many slaves were performing poorly, resulting in the decision of severe punishments and threats of being sold. When that failed they resorted to positive inducements which included; extra days off during the holidays, additional food allotments, additional free time, or money.

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In short, transcending routine re-enactments, Burnett casts different actors as Turner depending on which author's vision he is depicting at a given moment

Interviews with historians and writers like Henry Louis Gates, Louise Meriwether, Eric Foner, and Styron himself examine the way Turner's image and importance has evolved over the years, depending on the zeitgeist and who was telling his story. Burnett even includes himself in this legacy, revealing behind-the-scenes footage of this very film.

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