How will I use my art to address injustices in my life — says Birth of a Nation’s architect.
“We have gone beyond the point where we say, “The talent is not there. Can we do some training?” The talent exists”.
British politician David Lammy MP laid out a cogent argument why the BBC must act to normalise diversity in its work force, rather than its penchant for summits and reports declaring its goals and often missing them.
It was a seminal moment in British politics. For the first time in its history, diversity and the lack of it regarding the BBC, was being debated in the house of commons. Talk of diversity often attracts derision, a smirk here or guffaw there about it being overplayed or whether it matters.
As a former employed broadcast journalist at the BBC, who now works as an indie, participating in a dialogue of inclusion, opening fresh untapped stories, exposing shared values from experiential perspectives, telling stories that educate, challenge perceptions, and sometimes heal — these are reasons to want to be part of this sector.
At some point dealing with injustices in your life, you say how will I use my art to address injustices in my life.
This is how Nate Parker, the auteur behind Birth of a Nation’s put it.
In a year of turmoil amongst creatives, particularly minorities, in Hollywood’s film industry, it’s a reasonable assumption that the #oscarsowhite may be retired in 2017, though whether this is permanent is another matter.
American actor Nate Parker’s searing and rapturously-received film garnering several accolades and the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, bullishly treads on the toes of a cinema classic by appropriating its name.
Birth of a Nation, Griffith’s pioneering and racist film, circa 1915, will in the future have to wrestle with millennial’s consciousness against Birth of a Nation (2016), a film exposing the magna carter of racism — slavery.
In Nate’s film, his character Nat Turner is a literate slave put to use as a preacher to quell tension amongst blacks. He eventually turns on his owner and leads one of the most popular revolts in Virginia.
Comparison’s with 12 years a Slave and an elephant in the room, are inevitable. Another slave film indeed. Yet the Western genre never stopped with The Great Train Robbery (1903) or Duel in the Sun (1946). There should be room for films of this genre, which add to history.
I have not seen the full film (not yet on general release) — so it will be interesting to see how Parker captures Turner’s complex character and at his darkest hours. The broader issues of race in America and its roots, according to interviews with the film-maker envelope the film.
In African American Slave Narratives: An Anthology, Volume 1 court hearings of Turner and his crimes can be read. In his submission, he exchanges fire with white men. In other accounts his actions are disturbing, as shown below from the anthology.
Several children and women were slaughtered if we’re to believe the transcript. That said, as a fictional film, rather than a documentary, Parker’s entitled to focus on themes and plots. It’ll be interesting as the Oscar nears and critics review this.
Parker, a polymath, stars, directs, wrote and produced the based-on-a-true-story’ film— a herculean feat. The trials of getting the film made and raising the $10 million costs, against many odds, is in itself inspiring. The sale of the film’s rights for $17 million to Fox Searchlight Pictures, one of the biggest deals at a film festival to date, is some icing.
Films with a predominant black cast do sell.
But this isn’t a ‘black film’( a term conjured up for all black casts with cultural themes) — neither was ‘12 Years…’ but a humanitarian one documenting in the way conscientious fictional film-makers attempt to portray historical figures and their ecology.
Conscientious is the operative word here.
There is a sense here that cinema is doing what journalism so woefully is lacking, in interrogating the status quo. That’s a big shame.
Films of conscious (history) are necessary to educate, and recalibrate popular and warped myths. There’s a line in what will be another Oscar hopeful Free State of Jones (Dir: Stephen Gaghan) in which Newt Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey, leading a band of fled-slaves and poor white southerners against the secessionist South, says:
You, me, all of us. We’re all out there dying so they can stay rich.
This testament references a poignant, often over-looked theme of class control that perpetuated divisions amongst races during the slave abolishing years. American Culture scholar Tim Wise gives this context in a powerful lecture on how the rich divided American’s races.
Films about history, critically received, and the presence of new knowledge that lay down the foundations of memory and understanding erode fear that emerges from ignorance.
All this at a time when purposeful efforts amongst governments and businesses (Reagan and Vietnam, Trump and Mexican, and UK Conservatives and food banks) continue to deliver palatable histories to their constituents. Those we venerate are humanly flawed.
That’s why in the UK, the same debate over minorities (BAME) and the lack of opportunities in the creative industry, film, and broadcasting is critical as a new millennial generation shapes the world. As of 2012, for the first time ever recorded more than half the world’s 7 billion population were under 30 years of age.
The way we see the world, is often how we were brought up to see it combined with knowledge derived from these actions. In the absence of any counter-prevailing narrative that is both logical, rational and thus also emotional, we’re myopic, wracked by untested beliefs, and prey to manipulators. There comes a moment when that has to be addressed.
At some point dealing with injustices in your life, you say how will I use my art to address injustices in my life. Nate Parker couldn’t have put it any better.
If this post grabbed you in any way, I’d really appreciated if your comments and if you could share for others to read too. Ta loads David.
British filmmaker, artist, and academic Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is currently researching a personal, but widely-recognised theme/film on African parents who settled in Britain, but facing enormous hardships had to give up their children to surrogate parents. Some children were ‘stolen back’ and sent to the parent’s country of origin, where they faced a different set of problems. They were often referred to as ‘Been to’.