‘Birth of a Nation’ Plays Big Race Card

Filmmaker cashes in with his 'massive blow to white supremacy'

by Vinnie Penn | Updated 08 Feb 2016 at 3:03 PM

“I’m swinging a hammer. I wanna break everything. Subvert, subvert, subvert.”

So proclaimed Nate Parker, whose film, “The Birth of a Nation,” won top honors at the Sundance Film Festival. You’d think he’d prefer to be swinging a bottle of champagne.

Now, this isn’t the first “The Birth of a Nation.” There is the 1915 one, D.W. Griffith’s technical masterwork, what many have recalled as a blueprint for the future of cinema. A film also explicitly, appallingly racist, depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and black people, played by white men in blackface, as sexually violent beasts.

Nate Parker taking that film’s title and reclaiming it for a movie about the civil rights movement is a rebellious political act in itself.

Unfortunately, one can’t help but view that move as an angry response to a film made 100 years ago, too. Parker’s “Birth” is an angry movie, made in a town that stokes the fire of that anger often, if only to generate revenue. It would appear, though, that if Parker believes America to be the United States of Racism, then Hollywood is the capital. 

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But first things first. About that 100 years ago thing:

“I think that until we’re able to look D.W. Griffith in the eye, and his racist propaganda film that set the tone and pace for American cinema and American thought, until we’re willing to challenge that foundation that we stand on, we’re going to have problems for generations to come,” Parker told Yahoo Movies.

This conversation with a filmmaker from the early 1900s might prove difficult to come by. The notion that this is the same America — and, perhaps moreover, that America is just plain bad, especially white America — has to be put to rest, once and for all. In fact, there is no “white America.” Just America. Big ol’ melting pot that it is.

Yet clearly that notion would be wasted when shared with the exuberant, outspoken triple-threat. Parker also wrote and stars in the movie.

The Sundance win "is a massive blow to white supremacy, and the self-perpetuating idea that people abroad don’t have the capacity to not only empathize, but also be tolerant to other cultures and heritages," Parker said. "I think that at some point, we need to stop passing the buck and pointing at who we think might feel a certain way and start taking ownership of our industry and say whatever exists in our community, we have a say in that very thing."

A massive blow to white supremacy? What year is this again? Furthermore, the "ownership of our industry" line smacks of that #OscarsSoWhite tirade. That shot landed with significantly less oomph considering the Screen Actors Guild Awards telecast last weekend, which saw an incredibly diverse lot lifting gold over their heads. 

But Parker is on a roll, both with his film and his political posturing, with much of what he is saying coming off as incendiary, as opposed to grateful.

He also had this to say: "I want my kids — especially due to the fact that I’m a black man in America (and)there is pervasive racism in America and in the film industry — I want them to know that I took a shot at it. That I pointed at it and I didn’t just point, I pointed and took a step. That is something that our colleagues can learn. For me it wasn’t so much of a risk — it was more of a sacrifice to people who aren’t even here yet."

Did he not hear Leonardo DiCaprio's "we stand on the shoulders of giants" comment from the aforementioned SAG Awards? Parker acts as if there was no "12 Years a Slave" just two years back. No "The Butler." No "The Help." Heck, no "Roots."

He's having his moment. But after cleaning up at Sundance and selling the rights to his film for a record-setting $17.5 million to Fox Searchlight after an all-night bidding war, he should do what all the great filmmakers do from this point on — let the film do the talking.

  1. #BirthofaNation
  2. Birth of a Nation
  3. Nate Parker
  4. Sundance
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