Actor Nate Parker (Red Tails, Beyond The Lights) is hard at work on a film about the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner.
The historical drama, which serves as Parker’s directorial debut, will be titled The Birth of a Nation, a clear reference to D.W. Griffith’s highly controversial and racist silent propaganda film from 1915. The Birth of a Nation (originally called The Clansman) is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and based on the novel and play The Clansman. The film was a commercial success, though it was highly controversial owing to its portrayal of black men (some played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women, and the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan (whose original founding is dramatized) as a heroic force. There were widespread African-American protests against The Birth of a Nation, such as in Boston, while thousands of white Bostonians flocked to see the film. The NAACP spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film. Griffith’s indignation at efforts to censor or ban the film motivated him to produce Intolerance the following year.
Parker, who also wrote and is set to star in the film, says it has always been a dream of his to play Nat Turner even though he’s generally not remembered in America’s history books as a good guy. After reportedly having religious visions, Turner led a group of slaves to revolt, resulting in the deaths of between 55-65 whites in Virginia. The rebellion came to an end after two days with Turner going into hiding for two months before finally being captured.
Although there were hundreds of slave rebellions across America, (many are not recognized) this one left a monumental impact. Across Virginia and other southern states, state legislators passed new laws to control slaves and free blacks. They prohibited the education of slaves and free blacks, restricted rights of assembly for free blacks, withdrew their right to bear arms (in some states), voting, and required white ministers to be present at all black worship services.
“A lot of people thought he was a bad guy, but it’s [about one’s] perspective,” Parker says. “I don’t think he was a bad guy at all, but we all have our ideas of what we want and why we want it, and what we’ll do to achieve those things.”
Turner is said to have come from the Coromantee (Akan) people who are indigenous to the area known today as Ghana. The Birth of a Nation is set to begin filming this fall. Gabrielle Union is set to star in it as well.
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.