The Birth of a Nation—not the racist D.W. Griffith silent film from 1915 but a new one from director/writer/star Nate Parker—has been lauded as a Sundance hit this week and, even before this year's Oscars ceremony, already predicted as a strong Best Picture contender for next year's Academy Awards. In the midst of heavy diversity talk—with people chiming in about #OscarsSoWhite (sometimes very unnecessarily)—it feels victorious that a film from a black filmmaker with a largely black cast (including Gabrielle Union) is coming out on top at Sundance.
Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a 19th Century slave rebellion drama, starring the director/writer as the film's protagonist, famed rebellion leader Nat Turner. The film reportedly screened to a long standing ovation at the festival yesterday, leading to a record-breaking bid shortly following it. Sony Pictures and The Weinstein Company both made eight-figure bids, but Fox Searchlight eventually won world rights with a $17.5 million deal. This is the most a film has gone for at Sundance. Even Little Miss Sunshine, which sold for $10.5 million, pales in comparison. Netflix and Amazon also made high bids (the former offered $20 million), but with Searchlight, the same distributor that made 2013's 12 Years a Slave a Box Office and Oscar success, The Birth of a Nation hopes to follow a similar trajectory. Only two other festival deals surpass Birth: Denis Villenueve's upcoming Story of Your Life and Tom Ford's upcoming Nocturnal Animals, both of which sold for $20 million at Cannes in 2014 and 2015, respectively.