We all knew it was coming. Nate Parker appears to be a prime target for character assassination due to his retool of the notorious “Birth of a Nation” movie. The film, originally released in 1915, was used to reunite the whites in the North and South after the Civil War. The D.W. Griffith creation painted black men as predators and sexually aggressive and dangerous to white women and depicted white men as their heroes. The film was widely credited with spurring the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan.
Nate Parker’s uses the racially charged title of Griffith’s film and creates a work of art that is both inspiring and purposeful. Parker explores the life of a young Nat Turner as he is being trained as a slave preacher. As he tours with the slave owner, who earns money from his preaching, Turner decides he’ll be doing a different type of speaking. Parker takes Nat Turner’s little known story and creates a narrative of self-actualization, brilliance and violence. The film is written, directed, produced by and stars Nathan Parker.
By taking the title of Griffith’s film that sparked the blood shed of untold numbers of black people, Parker is making a conscious, assertive and unapologetically black decision to make a symbol of black oppression and turn it into a tool for black empowerment. The film depicts one of black America’s most legendary and fabled heroes and makes him human, relateable and inspirational, and this, for Hollywood, presents a problem. The film comes at a time when black people, exhausted by the constant crush of oppression, are already resolved to fight back. For some, being reminded that their humanity and life is worth using violence to protect, like Nat Turner did, could galvanize and unite blacks in much the same way Griffith’s original film did whites in 1915. Sometimes though, black men need to be reminded of that they come from other strong black men, to be uplifted. With so few examples of black assertion of freedom and masculinity now depicted on television; a film about Nat Turner may be long over due.
The modern Birth of a Nation was independently produced. Parker funded the movie with money from his friends and independent sponsors. With a budget of just $10-million, the film started shooting in May of 2015 and wrapped just 27 days later.
Parker started writing the film while participating in the Sundance fellowship (an elite incubator of sorts for film makers), and was discouraged by industry people who claimed that Nat Turner was too violent a character and that a back male lead (did I mention that Parker stars as Nat Turner) would limit it’s appeal internationally. Still, Parker persevered with his vision and premiered “Birth of a Nation” to rave reviews at Sundance. With all of the buzz (especially surrounding a film about a former slave who killed dozens of wealthy white landowners) comes the controversy.
A nasty piece of Parker’s past recently emerged in tabloids, just before the film’s much anticipated release in theatres. Parker, as a teenage freshman in college, was allegedly involved in a episode of group sex with a young lady and at least one other male after a night of heavy drinking. The young lady later pressed rape charges. After a difficult trial, Parker was eventually cleared. The young lady, who suffered from major psychotic episodes, would later commit suicide in 2012. The victim’s brother maintains Parker “got off on a technicality.” He brother recently spoke to Variety magazine about the incident, sparking new interest in the 17 year old case. Parker released a statement in response to hearing the news of the young lady’s death and the reopening of this chapter of his life.
The question for me is not whether he was involved but why now is it being brought up? My belief is that the content of Parker’s movie was deemed to be so dangerous and so inflammatory that someone in in opposition to its release sought to discredit its creator. Though there may be some merit to the accusation in that Parker was involved in a sexual encounter under circumstances he should not have been (group sex with a drunk girl, even if you are drunk too is not ok guys); the timing definitely appears to be punishment for his bold black freedom film.