The Birth of a Nation, a namesake of the 1915 D.W. Griffith film — but one that completely subverts what the original stood for — has created history at the Sundance Film Festival.
The Nate Parker movie, which tells the story of African-American preacher Nat Turner and the bloody insurrection of fellow slaves and freed blacks he led in 1831, landed a whopping $17.5 million deal from Fox Searchlight, the greatest ever deal struck by a film at the Sundance Film Festival, according to Variety.
One of the major reasons that the movie managed to strike such a momentous deal with a mainstream film distribution company (Fox Searchlight also helped guide the similarly-themed 12 Years a Slave to three Oscar wins just two years ago) is because of filmmaker Nate Parker’s well-documented and tireless endeavor to look for promoters for his film — an effort that spanned seven years and required Parker pouring in $100,000 of his own money — an effort he himself describes as “kissing a lot of frogs, and meeting a few princes”.
Some of those princes who helped Parker raise the $10 million production budget for The Birth of a Nation are NBA All-Star Michael Finley, San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker, and NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, according to the Daily Beast.
For Nate Parker, the deal represented a culmination of a passion project, a cinematic and personal achievement that in many ways countered his partial sabbatical from his first profession — that of acting — and he couldn’t be more proud of it.
Speaking after the bidding war that led to The Birth of a Nation creating history at Sundance, Parker was left humbled by his own admission.
“It’s been a very blessed and humbling 48 hours. I couldn’t stop thinking about what it meant for America, what it meant for filmmakers, what it meant for people of color, that this monumental thing was happening, It’s a watershed moment for independent film, for independent filmmakers, for Sundance, and I felt so humbled to be a part of it.”
Indeed. In a month where Hollywood has been embroiled in the diversity controversy, the overwhelming acceptance of a story as significant to the African-American community as The Birth of a Nation is, can only be a good thing. Nate Parker, for his own part, does not intend to shy away from taking the mantle. He is not one of those who will complain and not try to change a thing. He is one of those who lead from the front. “What I’d like to do with my art is challenge Hollywood as a whole,” he said.
The Birth of a Nation is a step towards achieving that goal. In fact, his clever use of the title is a clear subversion of the 1915 film of the same name, generally regarded as one of the greatest and most innovative films of all time. But, at its core, Parker argues, Griffith’s movie was a racist, hateful movie that only intended to perpetuate stereotypes and white supremacist ideas.
“D.W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation film really put us in a tough spot with regards to race relations. He had this film that basically created this mantra that whites should embrace white supremacy as a means of self-preservation. He was considered a genius for his technique and this film became the leading projector of social thought, and of cinematic thought, and that is the foundation we’re built on.”
“We can deal with the branch or we can deal with the root. As filmmakers, people of color and people that are not of color should really be critical of Hollywood; be critical of society when it comes to the pervasiveness of racism that we’re surrounded by, that we breathe in and out every day.”
Bringing Nat Turner’s story to the big screen — the story of a kind, literate preacher who organizes an extreme rebellion in the antebellum South — might be a small step towards dealing with the “root”, but the overwhelming acceptance of The Birth of a Nation at Sundance should be seen as a major victory for people of color in Hollywood.
[Photo via Sundance Film Festival/YouTube]