Nate Parker and Thinking Critically

Nate Parker is at the center of controversy. Two months ahead of the release of his highly anticipated movie, Birth of a Nation, his 1999 sexual assault charges have come up. Many Black folks are disappointed with him, specifically with his commentary regarding that time in his life. Some people are boycotting his film as a result. Other’s have taken the boycotters to task, calling the whole thing a conspiracy. While there is something to be said about how Hollywood treats Black films and Black filmmakers, this situation is not a story of sabotage or conspiracy. If you think critically, this is simply a case of Nate Parker not being who people thought that he was.

There is no conspiracy to prevent Birth of a Nation from being successful.

Birth of a Nation was written, directed, funded by, and stars Nate Parker. It’s a depiction of the (unsuccessful) slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. It’s an important story in Black History. Many people who support the project despite the controversy are screaming about how there’s this big conspiracy trying to prevent this movie from being successful. Here’s what those people fail to realize:

  1. The movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, which is far from being “Black”. There were more white people at that place than at a Starbucks during pumpkin spice season. It received a standing ovation and was pretty much the king of the hill that day.
  2. The film’s distribution rights was purchased by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million. That $17.5 million is White dollars. This is the same studio behind the massively successful, Academy Award winning, black directed, black acted, written by an actual black slave, universally praised movie, Twelve Years a Slave.
  3. All of the Oscar buzz articles that you read coming from the Sundance Film Festival reception were mainly written by White journalists who saw it. The media, specifically Hollywood, wants this movie to be successful because the slave narrative depicting black pain is a proven easy path to studio profit.

Hollywood DOES NOT want this film to fail. Following the #OscarsSoWhite topic from the last two years, Hollywood wants this movie to succeed during awards season in order to throw it in our Black ass faces. Birth of a Nation is exactly the type of Black film that Hollywood loves to promote. Slavery. Black Pain. Black Torture. It is yet another peephole into our painful history, depicting how we were treated like animals, and despite our best efforts, we ultimately lost the battle. White people can experience their White Guilt for two and a half hours, wipe away their tears, and then Whip and Nae Nae at Couscous Mixers while hashtagging All Lives Matter. This movie isn’t going to change shit about how Black people are viewed, how our history is viewed, or how Black filmmakers are used.

A movie about a successful slave rebellion, made by not-an-accused-rapist, Danny Glover, never received the financing that it needed in order to get off the ground. Hollywood wants it’s formulas to remain the same. It’s why we have four comic book movies a year. It’s why we have uninspired, CGI-fest sequels and reboots. It’s why we have movies about Black struggle and Black pain, instead of movies about Black triumph.

Nate Parker’s past is being researched because that’s what happens when you become famous, B.

One of the biggest Conspiracy Brother Jones theories is that this dig into Nate’s past is some major plot to have him discredited before he makes it. No, it is not. Before this movie, Nate Parker was a relative unknown who was always on the cusp of Hollywood fame. Now, there’s a lot of (White) dollars invested in him and Birth of a Nation, and people whose job it is to create his biographical profile are going to do some research on him. What was his childhood like? Where did he attend college? How did he become interested in filmmaking? There’s entire websites and YouTube channels dedicated to telling the “before they were famous” stories of celebrities. We’re obsessed with knowing every single detail of these people. When something salacious comes up as a result of that research, it becomes media fodder. Hell, if I blow up, people will find out that I actually once possessed a full head of hair! Guess what they won’t find? Rape, because I’m not a rapist.

Nate Parker has not handled this issue very well.

I read Nate Parker’s response to finding out that the woman involved in the sexual assault case had committed suicide. I read him expressing his sorrow in finding out that she’s dead. What I did not read was any feelings expressed toward her experience, or any regret for that situation ever taking place. Regardless of how he views his innocence, he never once viewed things from her perspective.

An example that people like to compare this to is Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant went through a very public sexual assault trial where he believed the encounter was consensual, while the woman didn’t. The case was settled out of court, and the charges were dropped. Kobe issued this statement, where he apologized to, and empathized with the woman involved. The difference between Kobe Bryant and Nate Parker is that Kobe didn’t minimize the woman’s struggle. He didn’t dismiss her pain. He didn’t make it about him. Kobe maintained his innocence, but he at least ACKNOWLEDGED that the woman thought differently, and that he understood his part in that. His public image has since recovered, and he’s now a majorly beloved figure in the Black experience. Nate Parker had almost two decades to acknowledge the woman, or his part in her experience outside of “I was there,” but he hasn’t.

I’m not saying that Nate Parker is guilty, but an acquittal isn’t the same as innocence. George Zimmerman was acquitted. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t do it. I’m also not saying that he should start donating to Safehome or RAINN. I’m just looking for something, anything, deeper than the tired “I was young and dumb” thing.

It’s not always easy to separate the art from the artist.

Many people in Nate Parker’s corner keep bringing up R. Kelly’s music as a reason why Birth of a Nation shouldn’t be boycotted. “R. Kelly is a child molester, but you’ll still Step in the Name of Love, you hypocrites!!!” No, not everyone does. I can tell you with full confidence that R. Kelly is banned in my household. I cannot support an artist that has been a known child molester, who calls himself The Pied Piper, and who’s music pretty much corroborates his sexual deviancy. For the most part, I can separate the art from the artist. For those that I have trouble with, I can acknowledge their talent, while hating their public persona. I recognize that no one is perfect. I recognize that we all have our demons. It’s all about how you handle yourself.

Yes, there is something about restorative justice. Everyone is worthy of forgiveness, and everyone is allowed redemption. However, it starts with the person seeking that restorative justice. Nate Parker’s statement, and his interview tours regarding the trial, have yet to reveal any sort of true growth from that time. When people tell you who they are, you should believe them. People boycotting the movie feel that Nate Parker’s art is difficult to support because the artist is still very flawed, and should not continue to benefit in the wake of the woman’s pain. At least not right now.

Black Scarcity is a very real reason why this situation is so disappointing.

I understand why people are supporting Nate Parker so hard. It’s less about this specific movie, and more about our scarcity in highly successful places. We put all of our eggs in the basket of someone who makes it. It’s why we bang for Barack. It’s why we love Simone Biles. It’s why we cheer for the Black person on Jeopardy, or Wheel of Fortune, or The Price is Right. We cheer for those of us skinfolk who make it because there’s so many barriers that we have to break through in order to do so. We have to be twice as good to be half as successful.

It’s also why it’s so disappointing to see when the one who makes it is revealed to be poor in character. It’s why the conversation regarding Bill Cosby is what it is. It’s why Malia Obama became a thing for a week. We can’t show weakness or vulnerability while we’re on top because it takes us such a long time to recover from the fall. However, it’s no excuse to simply accept anything or anyone. It’s also no excuse to immediately throw on our Tin Foil Kufi Hats without thinking critically first.

I cannot support Birth of a Nation, but I’m not mad at those who do.

I feel that ultimately, Birth of a Nation will have enough support behind it that it will be successful. There’s too much Why Pea Pole money invested in it for it not to be. Fox Searchlight is keeping it moving, with huge marketing and media promotions, and Nate Parker is front and center of it all. They’re going to make their money, and they might even win some awards. I don’t wish for the movie to be a failure. I don’t wish for Nate Parker to be a failure. I’m simply choosing not to be a part of the success. I shouldn’t have to support Nate simply because he’s a Black filmmaker. The Black contestant on Wheel of Fortune should actually be a good contestant. I don’t love to see us fall, but I’m not going to compromise myself if I can find better people to support. Birth of a Nation will have no problems having it’s supporters, and that’s fine. If you can look past all of the drama and enjoy the movie, more power to you. Just don’t call it a conspiracy.

-2 Fingaz

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