From The Ramparts
Junious Ricardo Stanton
Nate Parker’s Birth of A Nation
Filmmaker Nate Parker’s Birth of A Nation has as of this past weekend grossed over twelve million dollars. The film cost eight point five million to make, so it is making a profit despite attempts to undermine this important film about Nat Turner. We went to see it last week. I was impressed but I also know why the powers that be attempted to sabotage the film by bringing up Parker’s personal history of being accused of rape while at student at Penn State. Parker was subsequently exonerated of the charges but his accuser committed suicide several years after the event. All that is tragic but should not have any bearing on Parker’s film.
The film makes a deep political statement, it presents Nat Turner as a hero. By making this film Parker violated one of the most sacrosanct commandments of American race dynamics, “never make white people uncomfortable by telling the truth about their evil.” Parker’s film does exactly that, it exposes the vile nature of slavery; what the whites called “the peculiar institution.”
Making a film about Nat Turner is a touchy project. Even today to whites Nat Turner represents their worst nightmare a motivated and inspired black man who dared to challenge his oppression by using violence as the means to gain his freedom. In 1831 two years after David Walker a free Black man living in Massachusetts published his Appeal to The Coloured Citizens of The World in which he called for the use of violence in the cause of freedom Turner who by all accounts was a literate man led his rampage in Southampton County Virginia. Turner was an itinerant preacher who felt he was called to lead his people to freedom.
Parker’s version of Turner’s life begins when the young Nat is recognized by Africans practicing traditional African customs as a child bearing special marks which destined him to be a leader of the people. Young Nat was allowed to learn to read and write by his owner. The film follows Turner’s life as a boy slave learning to read and write but subsequently being taken from the tutelage of the owner’s sister to working in the fields. The book she used to teach Nat to read was the Bible. Of course the slave owners wanted docile slaves so servility and submissiveness were stressed.
A white preacher convinces Nat’s owner to use him to influence slaves throughout the county to be submissive and obedient. The white preacher and Nat’s owner split the profits the slave owners pay to have Nat preach passivity and obedience to their bondsmen and women. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you any more but suffice it to say Nat Turner makes a three sixty degree turnabout and Parker shows the incidents that led to his transformation.
I strongly urge you to see this film. I know there have been a rash of slavery films: Amistad, Twelve Years A Salve, Django Unchained, Belle to name a few but this is a must see film. Parker deliberately linked his film to the Black Lives Matter movement. By watching his film we see the social and political roots of the systemic devaluation of Black lives and we can connect the dots to present day racial dynamics in the US.
America has not dealt with its legacy of slavery, the endemic racial animus, terror and brutal oppression, nor has it dealt with the values and mindset that fostered such a system and allows it to continue hundreds of years later. So rather than deal with the film and the historical material it presents, the powers that be have chosen to demonize Nate Parker. Rather than discuss and connect the dots about the slave patrols (patty rollers) and how the police treat many Blacks today we are subjected to personal attacks on Parker.
Our biggest problem is we do not know our history nor the forces arrayed against us today. Go see the film. It will fill in some of the blanks and give you some understanding about what our people experienced, survived and overcame.