Nate Parker isn’t new to the business–although you may not recognize him by name. Since his starring role in 2007’s The Great Debaters alongside Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, he’s taken on numerous roles in films such as Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees, Red Tails, Arbitrage, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Then, a few years back, Parker decided to take his career down a different path. He’d write a movie. For those in the states who paid attention in high school history, you’ll likely recognize the name Nat Turner, the enslaved man who led a rebellion against slave owners in 1830s Virginia.
To write a film on such a complex human being with some pretty serious violence was certainly a task in and of itself. Parker also was tasked with convincing investors to finance his project and then he also planned to produce, direct, and star in the film.
As the Hollywood Reporter describes it:
[What Parker heard when writing the film was] all the reasons a movie about Nat Turner wouldn’t work: Movies with black leads don’t play internationally; a period film with big fight scenes would be too expensive; it was too violent; it wouldn’t work without a big box-office star leading it; Turner was too controversial.
Ultimately though, he secured $10 million in financing from investors and lined up a pretty impressive cast that included Gabrielle Union, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, and Penelope Ann Miller. The film, titled The Birth of a Nation, was coming together.
If you recognize that title, it’s no coincidence. D. W. Griffith’s 1915 revisionist racist garbage portraying the KKK as heroes of the south shares the same title, which was “very much by design,” Turner confirmed in an interview.
The Birth of a Nation has already won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance before being picked up by Fox Searchlight. The film hits theaters stateside on October 7, 2016. From the early reviews out of Sundance (and the incredible trailer with the haunting Nina Simone vocals), I’d expect to see plenty of nominations for the film at next year’s Oscars.