The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite is still making the rounds on social media, but meanwhile, filmmaker Nate Parker is quietly doing his own subversion of the racial bias permeating Hollywood. He’s doing it through action, by breaking Sundance records with his new film “The Birth of a Nation.” Parker’s movie not only boldly repurposes the name of an infamously racist film about the Civil War, but it does so while telling the story of a slave revolt with a mostly black cast. “The Birth of a Nation” took Sundance into a competitive bidding war and eventually broke records with its $17.5 million selling price. The previous record was only $10.5 million.
The film, which Parker not only wrote and directed, but also starred in, tells the story of a slave revolt in 1831 under the leadership of a man named Nat Turner. According to Parker, he had never even heard of Turner until he signed up for an African-American studies class while in college. Parker recalled the gaping shortage of African-American heroism in the version of American history he was taught while growing up in the South as a black man. Parker was further amazed and dismayed to learn that Turner grew up and lived his life less than 100 miles from where Parker lived as a child.
Parker ignored the objections from producers who told him that black leads in movies don’t work internationally and firmly informed his agents that he refused to act again until he was able to tell the story of Nat Turner. He then began a long process spanning two years of trying to raise 10 million dollars without Hollywood’s support.
The irony is that many of these very same studios who told Parker his vision would never work, are now offering top dollar to gain the rights to the film they told Parker would not sell.
Parker said he hopes “The Birth of a Nation” will help inspire blacks in the present day. He noted the resistance permeating the air in America right now and said that people should remember that the country was birthed out of rebellion. His film shows that Nat Turner was one of those American heroes fighting against oppression.