Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property

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Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property
Directed byCharles Burnett
Produced byFrank Christopher
Written by
  • Charles Burnett
  • Frank Christopher
  • Kenneth S. Greenberg
Music byTodd Capps
CinematographyJohn Demps
Edited by
  • Michael Colin
  • Frank Christopher
Release date
Running time
57 minutes
CountryUnited States

Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property is a 2003 documentary film about Nat Turner co-written and directed by Charles Burnett.


The documentary interweaves Thomas R. Gray's 1831 The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron's 1966 novel of the same name, and additional source material by Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wells Brown, and Randolph Edmonds. Different actors played Nat Turner, depending on the source material.[1]

  • Nat Turner
  • Carl Lumbly (Gray)
  • Tommy Hicks (Edmonds)
  • James Opher (Styron)
  • Michael LeMelle (Brown)
  • Patrick Waller (Stowe)

Tom Nowicki played Thomas R. Gray, and Billy Dye played Young Nat Turner.[1]


The documentary was first shown as a "work in progress" at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2002 and was subsequently edited to be 26 minutes shorter.[1] The documentary screened at multiple film festivals throughout 2003 and aired on PBS the following year.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Scott Foundas of Variety said the documentary was "insightful, if somewhat foreshortened", finding better the "work in progress" version shared in 2002 that was 26 minutes longer. Foundas said, "While this re-edit is an improvement over the original in other respects — the cutting is more fluid, the narration has been re-recorded and the archival material... has been three-dimensionally embossed... it seems, overall, a more timid, less confrontational movie."[1]

Jonathan Rosenbaum, writing for the Chicago Reader, called the documentary "brilliant" and described Burnett's goal: "Interviewing two dozen historians and theorists, half of them black, Burnett treats all their interpretations, many of which he dramatizes, as equally credible—a radical but plausible approach given how little is known about Turner. He's most interested in charting how the interpretations were arrived at and why those of white and black commentators often differ."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Foundas, Scott (4 March 2003). "Review: 'Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property'". Variety. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  2. ^ Obenson, Tambay A. (21 August 2013). "Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion Happened Today - Past And Future Films On The Historical Event". Shadow and Act. IndieWire. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 25 January 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hodgkins, John (2013). "Inventing Nat Turner: Charles Burnett and the Postmodern History Film". The Drift: Affect, Adaptation, and New Perspectives on Fidelity. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 105–136. ISBN 978-1-62356-070-6.
  • Peary, Gerald (2011). "Set This House on Fire: Nat Turner's Second Coming". In Kapsis, Robert E. (ed.). Charles Burnett: Interviews. Conversations with Filmmakers Series. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 126–129. ISBN 978-1-60473-949-7.

External links[edit]