When it comes to Black heroes, some hail Crispus Attucks for his role in the American Revolution. Others praise the capitalist success of Madame C.J. Walker. Others, such as myself, venerate Nat Turner.
Growing up, my home was one filled with self-affirmation and unbridled Black Nationalism. As a skinny, outspoken and proud little black girl, I begged my parents nightly to tell me the tale of Nat Turner until it was decided that maybe the repeated telling of his retribution against his enslavers wasn't the most appropriate bedtime topic. It was too late, though I had found my true American hero.
For me, Nate Parker's self-directed and self-penned adaptation of Nat Turner's life was a welcome respite when it was announced at Sundance last year. The several movies centering on slavery thinly disguised as torture porn continue to dominate the Hollywood landscape. The greatness of 12 Years A Slave notwithstanding, far too many movies exist to reduce black Americans on screen to shattered, cowering figures with no chance of escape, barring death. Movies depicting the few yet equally important rebellions of kidnapped, enslaved Africans have been unfortunately too far between.
Despite my desire to see Turner given the full hero treatment on the big screen, I won’t be seeing Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation when it hits theaters. Recent news surrounding the actor and director’s alleged rape of a woman 17 years ago is just too troubling to set aside. Even more, the stakes for supporting a filmmaker like Parker are too high for women and girls.
As badly as I want to view one of my heroes portrayed on the big screen, there exist too many issues to ignore.
When I did hear of Nate Parker being involved in an alleged sexual assault, I honestly didn’t know how to process it. I had been literally counting down the days to the film’s release and had actively been posting updates to my social media account to express my feverish anticipation. When I did finally dig into the interviews, articles, and court documents surrounding the case, I released a weary sigh. The frustration of yet another Black man— with so much promise and tasked with bringing such an important facet of American history to the masses—undoing himself was almost too much to bear.
Parker was an unfit vehicle for Nat Turner’s story long before his rape case made national headlines, though. Before the ticket-buying public knew anything about his past, Parker was a champion of problematic notions of masculinity, something revealed when he declared two years ago that he would never play a homosexual role because he wanted to “preserve” the image of black men.
Questionable ideas of manhood aside, the allegations against Parker and the way he’s handled them cement for me that he’s, at the very least, a fuck boy and, at worst, someone who may have gotten away with rape. Either way, Parker is someone so deeply morally compromised that I seriously doubt that he can do Nat Turner justice.
In one of Parker’s attempts to explain away his role in the reported sexual assault of a female classmate at Pennsylvania State University, he not only stressed how he had a difficult upbringing—despite most people with less than stellar childhoods managing to avoid sexually assaulting others—but also stressed how the case affected him and only him. Sure, he eventually lost his wrestling scholarship to Penn State and transferred schools but this case affected him really deeply, all while his alleged victim became so overwhelmed she dropped out of school entirely and, according to her brother, ultimately took her own life in 2010.
Nate Parker’s is so committed to fighting white supremacy that he titled his film after one of most racist movies of all time to disrupt its Internet visibility. But he’s also someone who tried to convince his accuser that she consented to sex with him and Birth of a Nation’s co-writer when all parties seemed to be pretty aware she barely conscious at the time. That makes him not only someone I cannot support but someone whose work I can’t support.
As badly as I want to view one of my heroes portrayed on the big screen, there exist too many issues to ignore. Curiosity surrounding this movie aside, it really is time for all of us to stop collectively making excuses when it comes to the repeated and culturally acceptable assault of half of the population. As necessary as this film may be, talent may distinguish Nate Parker, but it alone cannot be sustaining when selfishness and deviance go awry.