Words By: Chelsea Stewart
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Birth of a Nation made headlines for its $17 million deal with Fox Searchlight. But since, the film has been surrounded with controversy after a 1999 rape case involving Nate Parker, who is the director, producer and lead star of the film, resurfaced.
During his sophomore year at Penn State University, Parker and his roommate, Jean Celestine, who is also a co-writer of the film, were charged with sexual assault. In August, reports surfaced that the woman who accused him of rape committed suicide in 2012. The news broke at the same time Parker was on his publicity tour to promote the movie, resulting in it being overshadowed by intense media coverage and public outrage.
“This situation shares a lot of similarities to what happened to Bill Cosby. Here you had a show that was so important to black culture, but you can’t find it anywhere since rape allegations against Cosby surfaced. It was about an upper-middle class Black family who had two hardworking parents and a strong system at home, which was rare to see. I think you have to be able to separate the art from the artist when such a bigger message is attached to it,” said Cody Johnson, a Tallahassee resident.
Many have said the film lost momentum when Parker seemed to lack remorse. In an interview on 60 Minutes, the actor said he was falsely accused and didn’t feel guilty.
“You know, I went to court. And I sat in trial. You know, I was vindicated. I was proven innocent,” said Parker.
The film has come at a time where racial tensions in America arehigh and growing, and was supposed to capitalize off of the events that were happening in our country.
But Birth of a Nation fell short of expectations when it opened in theaters this weekend, only raking in an estimated $7.1 million. The film was intially projected to earn $10 million.
“I think it served its purpose in telling a story that needed to be told. I think people unfairly expect remorse or apology from [Parker] that he doesn’t owe and I hope it doesn’t deter people from seeing the film,” Vincent Ross, a senior broadcast journalism student, said.
Parker plays the role of Nat Turner, who leads a revolt in 1831 to free African Americans after his wife is assaulted by slave owners. The action results in the death of 50 to 60 white Americans.
“The movie had a deep impact. I was furious because not one textbook in school ever told me that Nat Turner was a preacher. Why am I being robbed of my African American history? Why do I have to go find out this information instead of it being told to me in the textbooks,” Cori Bostic, a freshman broadcast journalism student said.
“I could understand the controversy in the film but that was the point of the film. To wake people up. Make us aware. What progress we have made in the span of a century.”