Nate Parker and his critics let the American public off the hook yet again. Distractions have given many folks an excuse not to look at a film that captures the savagery of chattel slavery (that inhumane period of barbarity that good Americans like to tell African Americans to just get over) Unfortunately it over promises and under delivers as it fails to stick to the historical record and doesn’t flesh out the real Nat Turner or his very real reasons for wanting to rebel.
No doubt Parker should have been more forthcoming about the controversy surrounding what occurred between him and his Penn State classmate 17 years ago (he was found innocent of charges of misconduct).But his critics deserve criticism for confusing the creation, the movie, with the creator Parker.
Gabrielle Union who plays a rape victim in the movie, said about the alleged misconduct, “Regardless of what I think may have happened that night, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know.” So she is undecided about Parker’s guilt, but she continued to denigrate Parker and has encouraged people not to see the film. There have however been no reports about her returning her check!
Incredibly they have all minimized a great story a rebellion a fight back a resistance.
Go see the movie if you haven’t, though it takes liberties, it does a good job of depicting the reality and savagery of slavery. Nat Turner’s owner was a more kindly master but he didn’t hesitate to remind Nat who was owner and who was slave and when he had to, he literally put Nat in his place with his bull whip. When company demanded one of his married slave women for his sexual pleasure he obliged, nice guy and all. One particularly disturbing scene depicts a slave owner hammering out the teeth and force feeding slaves who had gone on a hunger strike.
But, despite its high points,this is not the story of Nat Turner’s rebellion so much as it is Nate Parker’s fictionalized version,which allows him to live out his own fantasies of avenging his woman and going out in a blaze of glory.
However, Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion was( if “The Confession of Nat Turner” are to be believed) inspired by visions from God. It was this God, according to him that had chosen him to lead an armed rebellion against that which God viewed as repugnant and immoral; chattel slavery. This was Turner’s view of liberation theology and Black theology his practicum of “Theology of the Oppressed.”
Conversely some Black women academics and others in their critiques, “missed the forest for the trees.” A New York Times review by University of Pennsylvania professor Salamishah Tillet, was titled “How ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Silences Black Women.” Clearly she needs to peek over the “ivory” tower.
Black women aren’t silenced by any movie! They have literally been held down, silenced, picked at, picked over, underpaid, unheard, overworked, exploited, assaulted, savaged, impoverished and literally imprisoned by this political economic, social order.
Moreover, Parker wasn’t the first, to “deny Black women their agency,” as another Black feminist academic accused the film of doing. Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” was given a pass for putting Amelia Boynton in the kitchen along with her middle and working class Black sisters, who made the struggle in Selma possible, while reinforcing the “Great Man” theory of Civil Rights history. The preachers of SCLC and MLK were part of the story no doubt, but it shouldn’t have necessitated that the women be placed in the back.
How did identity politics enter this discussion? The historical record says that Africans were stolen from Africa and made to work as animals and treated like cows and chickens and thus the term chattel. Enslaved men and women found ways to resist sometimes as a group and at other times individually; either covertly, surreptitiously and sometimes outright rebellion.
Indeed the slave narratives tell the story of women with real “ovaries” who held their captors in utter contempt and in the face of physical annihilation literally cuss Massa out and at times return blow for blow.
The Ivy League professor also claimed that, “The Birth of a Nation” is also out of step with the cause it has often been associated with, Black Lives Matter, which has steadfastly resisted the model of a single charismatic male leader and has primarily been led by African-American women.”
On the contrary, the movies’ theme of resistance is not out of step, it’s consistent with the idea of Black liberation. Their argument is with history. The movie is about Nat Turner not Natalie Turner, or Nate Parker for that matter. Parker got Turner’s motivation for the revolt wrong, but it doesn’t mean that a more realistic portrayal has to adhere to a 21st century view of how a slave rebellion should be carried out. This is Parker’s rendition of what happened.
Nevertheless it should be noted that slave women did indeed participate in the uprising. The historical record reveals that Lucy owned by a John Barrow was executed for taking part in the insurrection.
No matter what we may think of the arrogant, narcissistic Parker, slavery actually happened, Nat Turner actually led a rebellion of slaves in South Hampton, Virginia. The point of telling this story is to remind us that some slaves resisted and that we too can fight back and to give the new masters reason not to sleep so soundly, because oppressed people historically don’t always stay oppressed.