Nate Parker’s The Birth of A Nation, a film telling the story of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion, recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim. The attention was so sudden that there was a bidding war the very next morning that ended when Fox Searchlight, the same studio that released 12 Years a Slave, bid $17.5 million to distribute it, according to Indiewire.
If the name of the film strikes you as familiar, that’s intentional. It shares a name with the D.W. Griffith original that is now more than 100 years old and depicts America during and immediately after the Civil War. It shows the American South as the birthplace for the Ku Klux Klan – as well as multiple blatantly racist depictions of black people. Despite it’s unashamed message of racism and legacy of endorsing the actions of the Klan, the film is still considered to be a classic touchstone in film history because of its impact on the industry. Of course, this is always sandwiched in the middle of a parade of disclaimers to make sure no one mistakes support for it with condoning racism.
Before even reaching the public, Parker’s film has already successfully changed history so that the title doesn’t solely belong to a film with racist roots. From now on, whenever someones references “The Birth of a Nation,” they’ll have to specify.
The timing of The Birth of a Nation couldn’t be better. The movie was the brainchild of Nate Parker and took the public by storm almost a week after the Academy Awards announced that they, once again, shutout actors and actresses of color for nominations. Films that had predominantly black casts, such as Straight Outta Compton and Creed, still managed to grab a couple, but only for the white co-stars or screenwriters, completely disregarding the lead actors and directors.
Given the strong response that Parker’s latest venture is receiving, there’s already Oscar 2017 buzz surrounding it. The word “masterpiece” has even been thrown around casually on social media. If that truly is the case, Nate Parker’s made it virtually impossible for the film to be nominated without him being involved in some way. He stars as Nat Turner, he wrote the story and directed the film. His hands were involved pretty much everywhere.
After #OscarsSoWhite became necessary for a second year in a row, many admit that the Academy and its voting practices were indeed a problem. But many also said that the bigger issue is that there’s a lack of opportunities for people of color to display their talents in the first place. If there are more movies with people of color both in front of and behind the camera, the possibility of the Academy snubbing all of them becomes exponentially smaller.
If the Academy is smart, which we’ve all started to question recently, The Birth of a Nation already has a guaranteed slot in next year’s awards just so they can save face after the fiasco they’re currently in. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that it likely would’ve gotten there based on its quality, message and the work that went into making it something special.
Nate Parker appears to have beaten a corrupt system that’s been in place for nearly a century. Now let’s hope he can be a trailblazer and many others will follow suit to change the way that films are made forever.
It also wouldn’t hurt for more people like Byron Allen, who bid $20 million to distribute the film and lost, to continue this tradition to bolster the black film industry.
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