I wrote a piece on my internal conflict about seeing Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation back in August. I decided that despite his acquittal on rape charges, I would not support his movie. After reading a transcript of a call between him and the victim, his own words convinced me that he had in fact committed rape.
Expectedly, the piece was met with as much resistance as support. Black people, mostly black men, were appalled that an acquittal wasn’t enough to convince me that Parker was innocent. The obvious rebuttal was how George Zimmerman’s acquittal was not sufficient to convince most of us of his innocence. Somehow, those two cases were different though.
That day, after debating with people who were convinced that my allegiance to Black people was conditioned on whether or not I paid to watch Parker’s account of one of the most famous revolts of enslaved Africans in this country’s history, I decided the choice to support Birth of a Nation or not was an individual one which would be made based on each person’s own values. I refused to continue arguing with people who used the opportunity to prove they either didn’t understand or didn’t care about consent, and unnecessarily traumatize and taunt rape victims.
Still, any mention that I’m not interested in seeing the movie sends Black people rushing in to tell me how I’d be a fool to miss this movie because Parker is presenting a story that would otherwise never be told. Apparently, Black really doesn’t crack because Parker is actually over 200 years old and was there for the revolt, making his account of what happened the most reliable of all. There’s absolutely no way that I, as a Black woman who first learned of Nat Turner’s visions and eventual leading of a revolt in third grade, could learn anything about Turner’s story.
As Ebony’s Britni Danielle so succinctly wrote, stop trying to shame Black people into seeing Birth of a Nation. Blackness is not somehow revoked if people make a conscious decision not to support a man they believe is a rapist, and his work by default. If your litmus test for pro-Blackness is whether or not a Black person sees this film, you need to have a seat, which should be pretty easy considering that there will be plenty available in the theatre you’re planning to watch the movies in.
In all the time some of the supporters have wasted dragging other Black people in the two months since Parker first addressed the allegations, y’all could have read a few more historically accurate accounts of Nat Turner’s rebellion, if the story is really that important. Instead, though, y’all have turned into Facebook and Twitter attorneys, pathetically and inaccurately arguing Parker’s innocence based on your years of training at the University of Law & Order: SVU and the Judge Judy’s School of Legality. Meanwhile, the subject of your cause celebre is all over the media giving interviews that convince more and more people that both he and his co-defendant/writing partner are guilty.
In his latest clusterfuck of an interview, Parker arrogantly and contentiously speaks with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts. Visibly vexed, he the director/actor was clearly tired of answering the same questions over and over about the allegations. Parker responded that he “wasn’t going to go back to that” when asked if he was sorry about what happened. He then declared that Turner’s story is so much bigger than him. On that part, we agree.
There is a lazy trend among americans, most relevantly among Black Americans, of needing history to be packaged and presented to us in 120 minutes as we scarf down popcorn. While there is absolutely no shame in Black people wanting to see a story of our revolution on screen, the insistence of Parker and his supporters that Turner’s story was virtually unknown until he brought it to life theatrically is absurd. Black colleges and universities all over this country incorporate Turner’s story of courage and determination into their curriculum. Black historians, obsessed with keeping Turner’s story alive, have been researching Turner’s life and rebellion for years, some even offering tours of the site of the rebellion.
Even more, although nobody enjoys a tall refreshing glass of white tears more than me, I really need supporters of this film to stop acting like white America is shook about Black people watching Birth of a Nation and finally being inspired to get shit popping. If a 7-year-old Black girl sleeping in her bed being killed by a cop who was never punished, a 12-year-old boy being shot on camera, and a judge calling the family of a racist murderer victims the same as the families of his victims haven’t inspired us to burn shit do down, this movie surely won’t. After all, we all watched the documentary on the Panthers and took our Black asses in to work the next day.
Nat Turner’s story is an important one. It’s crucial to counteracting the narrative that enslaved Black people were all content, having resigned themselves to the idea that slavery was an unchangeable fate which they had best make the most of by working obediently and gaining their enslaver’s favor. So, indeed, Turner’s rebellion is much bigger than Parker, and as such, much bigger than a two-hour mostly fictionalized version of it. Any allegiance we pledge should be to Turner and all those who gave their lives in resistance, not to Nate Parker.
Let us not continue to conflate loyalty to the global fight for Black liberation with blind loyalty to every Black person. In this superficial competition for wokest and Blackest, just know that you won’t be crowned the winner because you decided to spend $12.50 to watch this movie. I just hope when all the buzz surrounding the movie dies down, you won’t forget about the visionary at the center of all this: Nat Turner.