In 1915, D.W. Griffith's Civil War epic THE BIRTH OF A NATION, from a novel called THE CLANSMAN, gathered infamy for inflaming racism in the United States (allegedly playing a role in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan) while people struggled to separate Griffith's filmmaking from its subject matter.
In 2016, Nate Parker's THE BIRTH OF A NATION, from accounts of the 1831 Nat Turner-led slave rebellion, is gathering controversy for the revelations of a 1999 rape that Parker was allegedly involved with (though Parker was proven not guilty). Now, people are struggling to separate Parker's filmmaking and the importance of retelling Turner's story from Parker's past behavior.
Of course, it didn't help that Nate Parker's first attempt at contrition (giving interviews to VARIETY and DEADLINE to preempt controversy which would erupt too close to BIRTH 2016's release) had a subtext of "please don't deny me the chance to potentially win awards for my film" spinning his past (as an obstacle to be overcome) and downplaying the woman who was victimized.
Then, it was revealed that the woman committed suicide years later.
Parker's statement showed some empathy for her--but he still seemed to regard this as mostly about him.
At this writing, Fox Searchlight (the releasing studio) seems to be full-speed-ahead with the release of THE BIRTH OF A NATION--but a screening at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles with Parker Q&A was canceled due to apparent objections (the AFI head announced what promises to be a venting session among AFI students on the film and a later re-scheduling of the screening). And the film will play at the upcoming TIFF film festival in Toronto, but without Parker doing Q&A--though he is to be part of a press junket.
Here's a link to a recent DAILY KOS article:
And here's William Evans writing for BlackNerdProblems.com :
From Evans' article:
Yes, Parker was acquitted and I don’t believe in infinite punishment, but when he concludes his statements by saying, “I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career,” that simply isn’t good enough. Saying you made some mistakes when you were in college doesn’t exactly sum up sexually assaulting an unconscious woman with a co-conspirator, especially if you’re never really willing to speak specifically to it (“made a lot of mistakes,” “17 years ago,” “grew so much since then,” etc). Realistically, as an editor of a modest website, my not reviewing A Birth of a Nation may not make any impact upon the hype and reception of his film, but it is the only way I know to attempt holding my fellow Black men accountable for the violence we sometimes initiate.