The Persecution of Nate Parker and Why We All Need to See Birth of a Nation

Image from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of Nation depicts a white man in blackface being tortured by members of the Ku Klux Klan. This film debuted at the White House in 1915.

The first Birth of a Nation, a visual cesspool of racist imagery that accurately frames the sentiment for people of color in America, is touted as the first great American film. I suppose this is what Donald Trump refers to when he proclaims he can make America great again. It was forced upon me in my Film 101 class in college. It’s part of the curriculum — a film that I will never be able to efface from my memory. I feel like it should come with a disclaimer:

Warning: the graphic images you are about to see epitomize all that is hateful and denigrating to not only you, but your ancestors. You will be depicted as inhuman and these depraved scenes will forever be etched into the deep crevices of your mind — nigga. Enjoy the show!

Something to that effect…

That being said, Nate Parker’s brilliance is evident in how he titles this great work off the top. To take the title of an uber-racist film that’s hailed for its creative genius and name a film about one of the most notorious slave rebellions is nothing less than an eloquent reappropriation. Nate, you had me at hello. I knew after I heard about this film’s existence, I was going to see and support it at all costs. I will probably see this one more than once. Someone is making a movie about Nat Turner? I’m there. Why wouldn’t you want to see that? The story of a slave rebellion on American soil. Oh you thought they wanted to be slaves? That’s what American film on a whole would leave one to believe. Slavery is often depicted in classics like Gone With the Wind (also hailed as one of the greatest films of all time) as friendly servitude imposed upon a lesser breed of people — a necessary evil, if you will. Birth of a Nation is about slaves popping off — and this really happened! It is deemed the moment in American history that sparked what was to become the Civil War. Why wouldn’t you want to see this film? A lot of Black people make the weak argument that they refuse to support Black films with slave depictions as if not seeing the film means it never happened. We are ostriches — burying our heads in the sand. I have heard Black people say things like, “I ain’t tryna see The Help”, all indignant like it’s beneath them to see Blacks in a subservient role. But these are the stories of our fathers and our mothers. I don’t know how to resolve when people say things like this around me. I feel like it’s disrespectful to our ancestors. We should want to know our history — all of it. The more we support Black films, the more these films will be made and other stories can then be told. We complain about the Oscars being so white, but we don’t support each other. If it’s not Tyler Perry, it isn’t worth a trip to the theater. Shout out to Tyler Perry, btw.

What is particularly captivating about this work is how Nat Turner loves his woman. There is so much Black love in this movie. There is so much love that you cheer for the death of the slave masters. It isn’t Django Unchained — a fictional tale told by white filmmakers making caricatures of Black and white relations in the antebellum South. No, Birth of a Nation is based on FACTUAL events. As a gripping tale, it shines light on so many topics: it delves into the use of Christianity to manipulate a people into willful subservience for centuries. It gives you a glimpse of how debilitating being deprived of the right to read could damage a people into perpetuity. There’s a scene when a husband delivers his newly purchased slave wench to his wife as a gift. He brings her to the door like she was the brand new iPhone7. Parker establishes early on in the film that Blacks are truly property in tear-jerking, gut-wrenching scenes that illustrate the type of resistance that sparked emancipation in America.

I’ve read a lot of reviews on this film. Every review mentions Parker’s past and the rape allegations from his college years. I can’t help but to think it is the media doing its best to keep people from seeing this movie — because it’s such a provocative and compelling story and god forbid the Black folks get anymore riled up than they are, especially when we killing them left and right as it is — ijs. Some reviews criticize the look, cinematography and even camera angles used. Let’s keep in mind that Parker had to finance this film on his own because white investors didn’t believe the project would make money (because Black people don’t support Black films) and Black investors were afraid of what the backlash would be once it was known they invested. 
 With all I know about the media and propaganda, COINTELPRO and all types espionage that have been used against Black folk tryna do the right thing when it comes to any act that benefits the Black community in any way; the unearthing of Parker’s controversial past came as no surprise to me. What I do find to be alarming, is how quickly Black folk still be falling for the okey doke. How long has Parker been acting and no one knew about these rape charges? Tupac was accused of rape and went to prison for sexual assault and I don’t believe he did it. #sorrynotsorry. As a woman, I often find myself conflicted when defending Black men because there is an inherent hypersexual machismo that pervades our culture. I do find that this does not make Black women unique. As we have seen white men, too, “grab ’em by the pussy”. Yes, Nate Parker is married to a white woman. This still does not deter me from loving this work as I suppose those Polaroids of a tender aged Sun-yi fail to anger proponents of Woody Allen and ALL his films that come out garnering Oscar nods left and right. We are human beings — all of us. Birth of a Nation is necessary — especially now. We should be a part of the conversation and not the problem.