Photo shown above is Birth of a Nation movie poster.
For those who do not know: Nate Parker, actor, writer, and producer of the upcoming film, The Birth of a Nation (the Nat Turner story), is the center of some serious controversy. And not because Nate has managed to get a film as controversial as the Nat Turner slave revolt to be distributed in theaters across the nation. But because of a rape allegation from 1999, for which he was taken to court and acquitted for. His best friend, Jean Celestine (also having worked on the film), was also accused of rape.
The woman who accused Nate and Jean has since overdosed in rehab back in 2012.
Let’s set aside OUR KNOWLEDGE of the rape allegations, for a moment. Why? Because none of us were there. Because a court of law (COL) reviewed the case and determined Nate was innocent. And no, I’m not hiding behind the law, because I have reviewed the case as well to determine my own opinion. But in reality, my opinion does not really matter here because there is still a woman who overdosed and a man trying to maintain his innocence – neither of whom are you or me. So let’s just put the allegations aside for a moment.
I was beyond thrilled to hear of this film coming out. As an aspiring screenwriter, the Nat Turner story was on my list of film pitches to jump-start my cinematic career. Turner was a historic figure that showed a strength in American slaves that I hadn’t heard of, prior to. Slave revolts are not boasted upon, celebrated, or even respected to a certain degree. At least not on a national or even worldwide scale.
I guess one can say slave revolts were not “approved rebellions,” like the Revolutionary War and so on. Because you know, fighting to be free of taxes is WAY MORE admissible than fighting to be free of murder, rape, mutilation, amputations, separation and forced labor… These things are totally not worth fighting for…
The reasons I was thrilled to hear about the Birth of a Nation are:
- Nat Turner (as mentioned above)
- Quite possibly a worthy addition to the small but notable list of films depicting the true African American experience.
- It’s a giant b****-smack in the face of the original 1915 film titled The Birth of a Nation
1. Nat Turner
When “slavery” enters into a conversation, I’ve heard follow-ups such as, “why didn’t the slaves fight?” Or “I know I’d rather die than be a slave.” Or “let somebody try to put me in chains, and see what happens.” Well, we can see what happened, in the MANY hidden or mildly regarded slave revolts that occurred in the United States. Our ancestors were far from weak and farther from “comfortable” with their situations.
Whether they fought their own instincts to survive the chains they were born in or fought the masters determined to keep them shackled – there was a fight. However, we do not get to see the latter fight often (if at all), and definitely not in the detail Birth of a Nation has supposedly depicted. But better late than never. I’m excited to see this fight. Even though I know how it ends. I long to see this fight. And not in a Django Unchained way either. Yes, this film was surprisingly entertaining, much like the iconic killing of the slave master, in Chappelle’s Show. But neither was real.
Turner, on the other hand, was real.
Furthermore, he deserves this recognition. He deserves to have his story told. And his movement deserves to be immortalized onscreen like so many of its “white-rebellion” counterparts (The Patriot for instance).
2. African Americans in Film
Now, I love my people. But I will not blindly support my people just because they’re my people. As a cinema scholar and an avid lover of films, I have my own standards. So I will not support a movie based off of blackness alone. I will support a movie that looks well-made, well- executed and thoughtfully produced by an impressive cast and crew.
I love to see one of our stories told, but I especially love to see it told well.
Now, just inching back to the Nate-rape allegations:
There are many of my peers refusing to support this film because of the mere existence of these allegations. Now assuming that this is a wise choice; refusing to support a project based off of the creator’s plight. How many other’s are affected by this logic? Did Nate and Jean work on this film alone? Are they acting out all of the parts? Are they the only ones being compensated?
Is the plot of the project now tainted?
Is Nat Turner’s story now ineligible, in terms of being shared with the world?
Now I get it. I don’t think I would support a known rapist or a murderer either. But that isn’t the situation here. These are allegations. Even if he wasn’t acquitted, these are allegations. Accusations. Statements that are not necessarily proven facts. So, like my movie choices, I refuse to blindly withhold my support based off of unproven claims.
Moreover, I am not choosing to support Nate Parker, as much as I am choosing to support me. The likeness of me, the essence of me, the HISTORY of ME. I want more DVD cases to place in my collection of “Blackbusters to raise my black babies” off of. I love positive and true images of my people being made available to the masses. Especially when so many negative images of black folk “tend to trend.”
This collection includes seasons upon seasons of The Cosby Show. Yes, Bill Cosby is in a lot of ish right now. But does his shortcomings as a man lessen the effect that that show had on the black community; on the non-black community?
Is Malcolm Jamal-Warner’s character depreciated? Or the character’s battle with dyslexia, for that matter? A common learning disorder that so many Americans face today.
Is Keshia Knight Pulliam’s relationship with love-struck “BUD” now weakened?
And is THE Phylicia Rashad – known as the mother of the black success story, family, and household – is the performance of THAT Phylicia now overshadowed by her co-host’s troubles?
The answer is no. That show was everything a black family could be, should be, would be and more. I will not starve out future generations from experiencing that televised black excellence because it’s creator could not model his actual life with that of his pretend one. He still created something worth holding onto.
Now, admittedly I don’t know how good The Birth of a Nation is, as I haven’t seen the film yet. But I know I will be supporting this film for ME, above all. And I will NOT shun those who had a part in making it. Whether it be Gabrielle Union, or the remaining cast and crew, as they have probably created something worth holding onto as well. Just in case it turns out to be all I wish it to be, I have a space in my collection waiting to be filled.
3. The Birth of a Nation – 1915 version
Now this “bull-ish-of-a-movie” here was considered groundbreaking in the cinematic world. It was the first 12-reel film in America, which is basically short for “long-ass feature film.”
Here is a description from the filmhistory.org site, just to give you some context:
“Pioneering film-maker D. W. Griffith’s technically brilliant, three-hour Civil War epic, The Birth of a Nation (1915), premiered during a sneak preview held in Riverside, CA (at the Loring Opera House). It was Griffith’s first full-length feature film (and career-making film), and was originally named The Clansman, due to its adaptation of the Thomas Dixon novel of the same name. Griffith’s film popularized the expressive close-up, POV camera, naturalistic acting, the flashback and other elements (i.e., exciting cross-cutting action scenes including a last minute rescue) that endure today as the structural principles of narrative filmmaking. It introduced the historical epic and period piece as a film genre and defined the language of film. It was the most extravagant and expensive film up to that time (at a budget of approximately $110,000), with a phenomenal ticket price of $2, earning more than $10 million – making it the first true Hollywood blockbuster. (It was the first film to gross over $1 million.) It was the first US motion picture shown in the White House for the President and various staff on February 18, 1915, after which President Woodrow Wilson described it as ‘writing history with lightning.'”
Yes. This was a film the POTUS viewed and loved. A film the country viewed and loved. And what was the film about, exactly?
Life after the civil war; where the North was scrutinized, the blacks were villainous, and the KKK were the saviors. YES. Black people were depicted as savages – now free from slavery – raping white women and running rampant throughout some Southern town.
Until, the clansman ride in on their horses, lynch the blacks and save the whites. This was considered an 8th WORLD WONDER.
People praised this film. In fact, if you look the film up today, there are STILL positive reviews regarding the film’s impact as well as its overall plot. And of course, the first greatest “TECHNICALLY EXECUTED” film in America, is also the most racist, down-right disgusting piece of recording the world has ever seen.
So needless to say, when I heard that the story of Nat Turner, savior of slaves, was now a movie. A well-done movie. With a casts worth applauding. And THEN had the nerve to be Titled…
I went into FULL PRAISE.
Now, in regards to Nate Parker’s situation:
Again, my opinion doesn’t change the reality of things, but I’m going to give it anyway.
There is no factual evidence that Nate (or his friend for that matter) raped that girl.
I’ve reviewed the court documents. I read the phone transcript (of Nate and the accuser). I read his numerous statements on the matter – which have been highly criticized for not being sympathetic enough, feminist enough, clear enough, or just plain “not enough.” Basically, his statements are being judged for not being confessions.
Well, let’s assume Nate is innocent, and that it was a consensual activity that took place that night. (And yes, if all parties have been drinking, and everyone seems for it, consenting may not always be bluntly stated, but rape isn’t always the afterthought either. As many drunken consensual nights can attest). But let’s just assume he is innocent.
How do you make a statement to defend your case and your reputation, WHILE sympathizing and honoring the very person who has ruined said reputation? How do you respectfully regard the person who has chosen to ruin your life, your success, and your future? How?
When concerning Nate Parker, I presume innocence rather than guilt. Because that is all we can do right? Presume?
Allowing a society to choose whether Nate is innocent or guilty – because a COL is not seen as trustworthy in these cases – and Justice, just too often, seems Unjustified?
Well, I choose innocence. I believe innocence.
And before anyone dares to call me naive, I dare you to be cautious.
Be careful not to allow the media’s sudden and consistent interest in rape allegations – to consume your every thought on rape.
Be careful not to allow “feminist views” to convict possibly innocent men. Remember, equality means to treat both sides equally. We will not win the “battle of the sexes” by constantly undermining those of the opposite sex. Men are raped too. Men are falsely accused too. It happens.
Be careful to consider all sides before making your conviction – as many of you trust your own opinion rather than that of the justice system.
Be careful not to assume the woman is always right. This has never been the case. Nor has it always been the case that men are always right.
I have a baby brother, a stepson, uncles, and male cousins. I would not assume they were innocent, I would hope they were.
And I will not assume they are guilty simply because someone else decided that they were – mainly an accuser who may or may not be telling the whole truth.
Be careful to know your history. Films like the 1915 Birth of a Nation have made it abundantly clear in our society, that black men made out to be the “big bad raper” of white women, is an easy story to sell to millions. It’s a stereotype that still persist today. Black men are backed into corners by societies once a woman feels the need to point a finger. And please note that that finger is not always justified.
And be cautious of the lengths this country will go to discredit and wreck viewership for a film of this nature. This film does not show happy slaves or peaceful runaways. This is Amistad status. This is a rebellion film during a rebellious era (#BlackLivesMatter). This is one of the very slave revolts America tried to discredit in order to keep more slaves from rebelling. And by discredit, I mean focus on the fact that Nat Turner killed the “innocent” without mercy – while omitting the fact that innocent slaves have been killed mercilessly for hundreds of years.
You honestly think a modern version of that strategy isn’t taking place now?
Nate Parker has been in our sights for years, now. And not just in indie films either.
And these are just films that I know. He has been in many, many others. So WHY NOW? And it’s not like “they” (whoever they are) had to do much.
Just plant a seed of doubt in the minds of millions. Or in this case, have a known rape allegation be made unbearably public – with media coverage hot on the trails of Brock Turners and the like.
And yes, fertilize that little seed with a report of the accuser overdosing – years prior to the film’s release date.
Where was the outrage when she initially passed? He was still acting. His movies were still being released. Just asking.
In closing, I am proud of this man for what he has produced. And I genuinely anticipate the release of this film. I hope there are more of us who plan to do the same.
The noose is here.
The Klan is waiting.
But I am with you.
And I am ready for the Revolution.