Birth Of A Nation

The 1831 rebellion led by enslaved African American, Nat Turner in Virginia jolted the South at the time. It resulted in the deaths of over 50 white people before the revolt was put down in two days but mob retaliation by fearful whites killed over 200 blacks.  It was a bloody, sorry moment in the course of American history that is now particularly timely in the context of recent events.

Nate Parker, the star-writer-director of the film shepherded this passion project for eight years and he does an admirable job of bringing his vision to the screen. It is raw, touching, and at times downright uncomfortable to watch but it won’t be denied.

There is not a lot of personal, historical data surrounding Nat Turner as the white population in the south at the time wanted to erase his existence as completely as possible lest he become a martyr for the remaining slaves.  Nate Parker humanizes Turner by dramatizing what is known and adding scenes for additional emotional power.  That’s where the conflict surrounding the film comes from.

There is a jolting rape scene in the movie that pushes Turner towards what he believes is God’s will to rise up against his enslavers. It is very unsettling. However, it has surfaced that Mr. Parker (and his good friend and co-writer, Jean Celestin) were accused and tried for rape and sexual assault while they were sophomores at Penn State. Parker was acquitted and Celestin was convicted. That conviction was subsequently overturned and the case was not retried.  The victim committed suicide in 2012.

Parker refused to apologize for the incident on a recent edition of  60 Minutes, telling Anderson Cooper that “he didn’t feel guilty.” Parker did make a point to express, “regret for that night” while talking with Steve Harvey on another show.

So, is it possible to separate the film from the filmmaker?  The movie is certainly an eye-opener and it can be a needed catalyst for conversations on race.  But will this movie and its important historical gravitas become just a footnote in another conversation about rape?

Birth Of A Nation is not for the feint-hearted but it will be part of our national conscience for some time to come so we think you should see it to be part of the conversation.

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