Nate Parker?’s ?’The Birth of a Nation,’ The Nat Turner Slave Rebellion Film, Hits Big At Sundance Film Festival
Filmmaker Nate Parker? debuted ?The Birth of a Nation, the story of a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831, at the Sundance Film Festival this month to rave reviews. As soon as the credits began, the audience erupted into a standing ovation that became one of the longest in the film festival’s history, according to the Hollywood Reporter.“I made this film for one reason, with the hope of creating change agents. That people can watch this film and be affected. That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us,” said Nate Parker, the writer, director and star, during the Q&A after the film. “I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, ‘Are there systems in my life that need attention whether it be racial, gender?’ There are a lot of injustices.”
The Birth of a Nation stars Parker, playing Nat Turner, a former slave who led a rebellion and liberation movement from white slave owners in 1831. Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union are also in the film. Filmmaker Spike Lee was also in attendance in the audience during the screening.
“I think any time we’re dealing with our history, specifically with slavery, I find that it has been desperately sanitized,” said Parker.
Nate Parker himself grew up in Virginia, only 40 miles east of where Nat Turner’s rebellion took place. Parker has been an actor for over a decade and gave it up for nearly two years while he was trying to make the film. Because of the story centering around slavery in the 1880s, Nate ran into plenty of hardships trying to get financing for the project. David S. Goyer, Michael Novogratz, Michael Finley, and Tony Parker are among the film’s several executive producers.
“It was very difficult, for so many reasons,” Parker said. “I think any time we’re dealing with our history, specifically with slavery, I find that it has been desperately sanitized. There’s a resistance to dealing with this material.”Nat Turner led a group of slaves on a killing spree, gathering guns, horses, and freeing other slaves from plantation to plantation. Militias were organized to bring the slave uprising to an end. In the aftermath, they were accused of the deaths of 50 white people, 57 black people were executed with Turner, being found after hiding for months in the woods, being sentenced to death by hanging. According to Preaching Liberation by James H. Harris, an author who has written about the history of church in the black community, the slave rebellion “marked the turning point in the black struggle for liberation” and that “only a cataclysmic act could convince the architects of a violent social order that violence begets violence.”
“It sucked, it was not fun,” actor Armie Hammer said, answering a question about his experience on set playing slave owner Benjamin Turner. “There were definitely days when Nate had to stop what we were doing and remind us why we were all here because everybody felt the emotional burden of it,” he said. “But at the same time it was a story that needs to be told.”
According to the Wrap, The Birth of a Nation caused multiple studios to create a bidding war for distribution rights for the film. It appears as if Fox Searchlight is the current frontrunner for highest price offer for Nate Parker?’s ?The Birth of a Nation, with $16 million for a wide release.
[Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Kari Feinstein]