Several months ago, when I heard whispers of a film based on Nat Turner, I didn’t believe it. It seemed too good to be true. Then it was purchased at Sundance for a record $17.5 million, the trailer dropped and I was GEEKED. Actually, we (my fiancé and I) were geeked, because there’s rarely a time where we both want to see the same thing. (He’s a “Walking Dead” fan; I’m more of a “This is Us” kinda gal.)
And then… sigh. Nate Parker and his team, in an attempt to get ahead of the media, discussed the rape case that he and his co-writer / former classmate had both (eventually) been acquitted of. I thought, “Well he was found not guilty, so we’re done here right?” (By the way, this should dispel the conspiracy myth... he brought it up!)
As more details emerged, the court documents were published, the alleged victim’s family emerged to share that she had committed suicide as a result of her experience, and Nate Parker went on a Refuse to Apologize Tour. And I get that. If someone falsely accused me of rape / sexual assault and then I had to discuss it over and over as I was dropping something I’ve been invested in and worked on for years, I’d defend myself as well. But despite my desire to turn a blind eye and enjoy this film, the human in me decided to research. I read the transcript of a phone conversation shared between Nate and the victim where he shows no remorse, no compassion and only admits to inviting his friend in to participate when she suggests that she is pregnant. (Days before, he attempted to convince her that his friend wasn’t present. If she genuinely consented to have sex with two people, why would you even try to convince her that the second person wasn’t there? Seems like a hard sell unless you know she wasn’t coherent.)
I read the court documents where the victim describes in alarming and harrowing detail the campaign that Nate – then the popular Penn State athlete – and his friends engaged in to destroy the young lady’s character. This goes beyond defending yourself; this is indefensible and deplorable.
And yet… I still was torn. Birth of a Nation is Nate’s baby, but it’s the culmination of hard work by countless other cast and crew who don’t deserve to suffer (least of all my fav Gabrielle Union). Why should I skip out on the movie just because the headliner did something gross almost two decades ago? I was undecided.
But there were two things that really pushed me into the “I can’t see this movie” column.
- Nate is the epitome of #SorryNotSorry. People of color are honestly some of the most forgiving people I have ever met -for better or for worse. We listen to Chris Brown, R. Kelly still sells out concerts, and Bill Cosby could probably pack out an audience with fans. To go back even further, our universities and our homes were always open to others even when we were barred from theirs. Nate Parker likely knows this. With a thoughtful apology for his past behavior (yes what he admitted to, not what he was accused of) and an effort to illuminate discussion on what consent is, Nate Parker would probably be in a different position now. But that’s not what he chose to do. After a brief moment where he released a statement that seemed to be headed in the right direction (versus his initial “This was a painful moment in my life” (not necessarily for her – the woman who committed suicide), he reverted to a horrifying, even bellicose stance, frustrated that he has to even address it. Robin Roberts asked him about the topic and he replied “What are we talking about?... I’ve addressed it so many times… I’m not going to apologize for that”. It literally made me sick to my stomach to see him be so dismissive of a very real problem.
- The movie isn’t even accurate. Look, we get it. Films aren’t going to be 100% accurate; especially when they are depicting history that occurred way before video was an option. However, when Nate Parker compels us to see this movie because it is “so important”, it’s important to stick to some major plot points like say… the impetus for the entire insurrection, or whether Nat Turner had a wife or kids, or whether his "master" was kind or cruel. Seems pretty relevant, right? Oddly enough, Nate Parker inserted a rape scene that there is no record or proof of in the historical record. I’m no historian but these folks know the truth and have pointed out gaping mischaracterizations in the film: Dr. Leslie Alexander for The Nation, Clay Clane for CNN, and Patrick Breen of Deadline, to name a few.
I can’t speak to what others should do in this instance. Seeing this film won’t change what happened back at Penn State decades ago. But at some point, we all have to decide if there are consequences for people who mistreat women and then dismiss it later. We can do that at the ballot box and also at the box office.
For those who want to know more about the powerful story of Nat Turner – you are in luck, there are a lot of direct accounts on his slave rebellion: