- Title: The 'Birth of a Nation' confronts America's racial past and present
- Date: 6th October 2016
- Summary: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (FILE) (REUTERS) **** WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY **** VARIOUS OF NATE PARKER AT LOS ANGELES PREMIERE OF "THE BIRTH OF A NATION" BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (FILE - AUGUST 5, 2016) (REUTERS) 'THE BIRTH OF A NATION' DIRECTOR NATE PARKER ON RED CARPET
- Embargoed: 21st October 2016 02:37
- Keywords: "The Birth of a Nation " Nate Parker Fox Searchlight Nat Turner rape Black Lives Matter #OscarsSoWhite
- Location: BEVERLY HILLS / LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES / TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA/ CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES / UNIDENTIFIED FILMING LOCATIONS / INTERNET
- City: BEVERLY HILLS / LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES / TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA/ CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, UNITED STATES / UNIDENTIFIED FILMING LOCATIONS / INTERNET
- Country: USA
- Topics: Film
- Reuters ID: LVA00252V7K25
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: When "The Birth of a Nation" opens in theatres this week, its backers are hoping the film's buzz will finally shift away from the controversy dogging its creator and toward the slavery drama's powerful message about race relations in America.
The film about Nat Turner, a West Virginian slave who led a rebellion in 1831, was once hailed as an awards frontrunner but has been overshadowed by headlines about a 17-year-old rape case involving the writer, director, producer and lead actor, Nate Parker, who was acquitted at a 2001 trial.
As Parker has sought to address the rape case in recent weeks, marketing for the film has shifted to promote the relevancy of the little-known story of Turner to today's Black Lives Matters movement.
Television ads shown nationally interweave scenes of slaves running through cotton fields in 1831 with recent news images of protesters, with lips taped and "I Can't Breathe" signs, demonstrating over the deaths of unarmed black men by U.S. police.
"I think that it just asks the question, you know, what is the change you want to see," said Parker, in explaining the focus of the message for the film. "What is the systems that are negatively affecting your experience and the individuals around you, and what are you willing to do to join the conversation for de-constructing those systems or progressing those systems to a place where they're inclusive or they're helpful or they're supportive. Black Lives Matter is a device that I think is doing an amazing job in addressing these things."
The stakes are high for studio Fox Searchlight, which bought the movie in the midst of the controversy over lack of diversity in Hollywood that prompted the resurgence earlier this year of #OscarsSoWhite.
But Parker, 36, said he knew right from the start that he wanted to make a film that "changes the conversation around race in this country."
"I feel like this country is more segregated now than it's been in moments in the past, so seeing that a film is actually speaking to that and progressing the conversation, it's inspiring and encouraging," Parker told Reuters.
Disturbing visuals about race and slavery dominate "The Birth of a Nation."
A white girl plays with a black girl with a noose around her neck in one scene, a family of slaves hang from the branches of a sprawling live oak tree as Nina Simone sings "Strange Fruit" in another. In one of the most jarring, a slave on a hunger strike is force fed after having his teeth chiselled out by his white owners.
"That slavery in America, especially American slavery, was one of the most brutal experiences even known to man," Parker told Reuters.
"The whole idea of shadow slavery, in the 1600s, laws were changed so the child of an enslaved woman would take on the lineage of the mother rather than the father, so these slave owners could increase their property through enslaved women. This was our reality and I think it's important that people recognized that this was an everyday thing and a system that This was our reality and I think it's important that people recognized that this was an everyday thing and a system that was so strong and so fortified that it corrupted everyone that it touched," Parker said.
Filmed in Savannah, Georgia, on the grounds of a real plantation, the cast said they were emotionally affected by the history of the land.
"You walk on that plantation and it's immediate, you feel our people, you feel them like they're sitting right here, you see and feel the pain, it's like a horror movie except this is reality," said Gabrielle Union.
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