By Amber Broaden, News Editor
When “The Birth of a Nation” was released to the world on Oct. 7, I had the opportunity to watch the screening, though I was distracted due to the news surrounding its creator, Nat Parker.
Parker portrayed the role of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who led his slave rebellion in Southampton, Virginia in August 1831. “The Birth of a Nation” is not only a modern-day slave narrative, but it is an ambitious attempt to bring the true history out of the many layers of contradictions and lies that have been put on Nat Turner’s legacy.
This film dwells on Turner’s revolutionary demeanor as he adapts his old strategies to new circumstances that he is exposed to during his time enslaved. Parker characterizes this role so well with his representation of violence, plantation life and episodes of Black joy. The film is emotionally moving throughout its duration.
“One of the most powerful moments in the entire film was when they all, Nat and the slave masters, discovered what they did not know,” said Taylor Burrell, senior acting major. “I felt that way when I came from California to Howard, and I did not realize that we as a people were oppressed. We as a community need to get better at expressing what we do know, in order to stop choosing what we do not choose to know,” she said.
Many proud members of the Diaspora were eager to see this depiction despite the controversy that appeared weeks before its release.
Parker and his wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a female student back in the 1990s when Parker attended Penn State. Parker was found not guilty, but Celestin was. This case has been a matter of public record for over a decade, but found its way back into mainstream media over the release of this movie.
“At some point I have to say it: I was falsely accused. I went to court. I sat in trial. I was vindicated — I was proven innocent. I was vindicated. And I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. I feel terrible that her family had to deal with that. But as I sit here, an apology is … no,” said Parker during his 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper.
Nate Parker received support from his on-screen colleague, Gabrielle Union, in her Op-Ed published by the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 2.
“As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly.
said Union. “I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power,” she said.
Union’s statement is true. Despite rape being a major issue that affects many compassionate about women’s rights, it is rooted deep in the history of the violence upon and in the Black community (especially in the context of U.S. chattel slavery, which Parker’s movie is about) the toughest, and should prevent anyone from supporting the film.
“ . . . Parker makes it clear that whatever you think of his past, it should in no way prevent you from seeing the film that could very well change your life,” said Rolling Out magazine writer DeWayne Rogers as Nate Parker discusses the importance of the film in an exclusive Oct. 6 interview.
“I haven’t gone through an inkling of the amount of persecution that others have gone through. I’ll make it through this. I can’t speak for other people and what motivates their action or inaction. All I can speak for is myself, what I believe I’ve been called to do, and my art,” Parker said.
“Birth of a Nation” is considered a flop due to the low gross income the film brought in during opening weekend.
The film was able to bring in an estimated $7.1 million in the U.S. and Canada, which hardly met the analysts projections of $7 million to $9 million. However, the studio, which also expected $7 million to $8 million going into the weekend, was happy with the debut, according to Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight’s senior Vice President of Domestic Distribution.
In an Oct. 9 LA Times movie review, Rodriguez notes that the difference in box office sales might have been only a few hundred thousand dollars with the inclusion of North Carolina.
“A ‘disappointment’ would’ve been if we came in with $5.8 million or $6.1 million,” he said, also noting that Hurricane Matthew in the Southeast closed a significant number of theaters “where the film was expected to soar,” he said.