The buzz about The Birth of a Nation, the movie about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion and actor Nate Parker’s project has been active for almost a year since news first broke out about it. People have anticipated a film about a revolt against slavery that was named after another much earlier film that depicted the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The first movie was released in 1915 was popular among white movie goers showcasing racist stereotypes of African Americans. Despite that, it is still considered an important piece of film history to this day.
But just like the original film, it’s modern incarnation is not without controversy, especially surrounding the producer. Several weeks before its release, past sexual assault allegations have surfaced. Parker, along with his friend and co-author Jean McGianni Celestin while students at Penn State, went to trial for rape accusations, but was ultimately acquitted two years later. Sadly, in 2012 Parker’s accuser committed suicide. And despite news of her death reached Parker, he generally doesn’t seem fazed enough to apologize.
The resurfacing of Parker’s rape accusations has become a side-story whenever Birth of a Nation is discussed, usually praised. Movie fans and critics alike contend that it’s a must see film. For Black Americans, it’s a changing of the norm. There are no white saviors to step in and save black folks and even though it’s another film based on slavery, the slaves rise up against oppression. Why not see it?
Even though Parker’s moral character has come into questioning since news surfaced about his allegations from the past and his current reactions toward them, not all black people are on board with the movie hype. Some expressed anger towards his indifference and victimhood, disappointed that one of their brightest stars is sounding more and more like an unfeeling douche bag unwilling to do anything to tackle the issue responsibly.
But like anyone else, there are black people who blindly support such people, because their art and talents are more prominent than their misdeeds and crimes. Men like Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, Robert Downy, Jr., Charlie Sheen, former-President Bill Clinton and Presidential-hopeful Donald Trump are still beloved, adored and praised among many people. Their great accomplishments have largely overshadowed their most heinous sins.
Black people are like anyone else. Some of us still show support for icons through thick and thin. We still love Bill Cosby, Mike Tyson, Afrikaa Bambataa, R. Kelly, Chris Brown and even O.J. Simpson. (Well, maybe not quite O.J. Simpson.) Part of that is due to the history, past and contemporary, of racial hoaxes which resulted in the lynching of scores of black men in the South. It’s made many of us suspicious of accusations of violence against black men, especially if the victim and accuser is white. Nate Parker’s victim was reportedly a white female. News about his rape accusation surfaced weeks before the release of the movie. So, many black folks theorize a racist conspiracy against a famous black man who produced an anti-slavery film to bring him down.
But there’s another depressing side to this. Nate Parker was a rising icon among the black community. We saw him an innovator or revolutionary of sorts. Black people see the successes and failures of individual black people as successes and failures of the entire race. When some of us hear of Parker’s rape accusation, we felt disappointed. And his attitude towards it when being interviewed is rubbing salt into the wound. Watching a famous black leader of any kind fall slowly but surely is upsetting and even embarrassing. We fought so hard to smash racial stereotypes about us only to have someone, a famous someone, become that stereotype. And we fear that that individual will make things hard for the rest of us.
Nate Parker is becoming the stereotype we want to erase. His accusation of raping a white woman is bad enough. His responses to it are even worse. Will it be enough to affect the film’s status as a powerhouse or his reputation as a budding producer? Probably. Nevertheless, the culture of toxic masculinity must be addressed. If not, men will continue to get away with murder – in some cases literally – and more women will suffer for the sake of male power.