I was invited to an advanced screening of Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation last night. I didn’t intend to go watch it when it came out, in fact, I didn’t even know when it was supposed to be released. I’ve been over the “black people were slaves” motif for some time now and I opted to steer clear of the continuous release of slavery themed films. A while after I first caught wind of the production, I heard that there were old rape allegations against Nate Parker that resurfaced. This news was upsetting to me, not because of what it had the potential to do to the film but because I liked Parker as an actor and I was inclined to look at him differently now. After reading more details of the old case and his interview, I resolved to let it go as there would be no justice for his alleged victim in my digging. When I got the call about going to see the film, I didn’t hesitate. I became more curious about the film after seeing the controversy it stirred up (plus it was free).
I don’t know what I expected but as I watched, I felt a mixture of every emotion. I chuckled a bit during a few scenes that was clearly added to lighten the mood. I cried every single time a slave was beaten, raped or killed. I cried watching the child actors portray roles that I couldn’t help but wonder if they understood. I cried for every black man, woman and child that has been killed at the hands of someone white since slavery “ended”. I cried because of what I saw and what it represented. I felt every scene, deeply. It made me think of what slavery, segregation and modern day systematic racism has done to the black man and woman and subsequently the black family. I was enraged while watching Birth of a Nation and for a few hours, it made me yearn for action more than ever before.
There were scenes that highlighted the issue of rape between slave owners and black women. The degradation was appalling and I couldn’t help but to think about the woman in Parker’s own life that he had been accused of putting through the same thing. I cried for her as well.
I’m an advocate for women, after all I am a woman. My heart goes out to the victims of sexual assault. The feelings that come with that level of violation isn’t something that can be taken back whether the perpetrator serves time in prison or not. I respect the opinions of those who decided that they would not support Birth of a Nation due to Nate Parker’s involvement in the film and his past. I do, however, see why his past came up now, of all times. I’ve seen plenty films with Parker over the years but I never once heard of this case that clearly predates his career as an actor, prior to this film. Call me a conspiracy theorist but I don’t think that’s a coincidence. What I’m saying is, rapists should be held accountable for their actions. Women should be made to feel safe and protected whether they are drunk at a college party or soberly jogging in broad daylight. I’m also saying that that part of Parker’s life should not affect the attention that this film receives. I’m saying that based on the continuous cycles of social injustice black people and other people of color have been experiencing in America, this film is on time. This movie is different than most of the other slave based films I’ve seen. This film was a call to action in it’s own right. So yes, be upset with Nate Parker for having been young and dumb once. Use this situation as a cautionary tale for yourselves and your children to educate your sons about consent and your daughters on the risks of being a woman (because death to respectability politics). Allow this situation to open up the conversation about sexual assault for everyone including survivors of sex assault. What I’m also saying is that if there was ever a time to compartmentalize, it’s now. The Birth of a Nation was deeply saddening but immensely empowering. Allow this film to stand alone. Remove the clutter of the personal lives of those involved in its creation and view it objectively. This was indeed one for the culture.
Kimolee Eryn is an artist and writer who believes in creating for a purpose beyond the purpose of creating. She believes that a life should be lived not just to sustain itself but to cultivate peace, love and growth in all adjacent beings and hopes to exemplify that in all she does.