It took me a while to pick up The Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement by Nate Parker. I also still haven’t seen the movie.
I understand that it is a monumentally important film and piece of art; a reclaiming of one of the most notoriously racist pieces of culture we have in American history. There was a lot of buzz when it came out a few years ago. From what I’ve heard, it wasn’t just another slave movie.
The book, though short, is good too. After the first part about how the film came into fruition, it talks about several slave revolts in history, most of which I have of course not learned about in school. Even when I learned about the Denmark Vessey revolt and the Stono Rebellion, they were reduced to a paragraph and focused on the violence and suffering of the White victims. Interesting how we dwell on this, but we don’t talk about how many Black people were killed, tortured, experimented on, etc.
Nate Parker is really smart and talented. He contributed art that meant something to so many people. He took his passion and channeled it into something to leave as his legacy. There is no denying this fact.
Low key, I would marry someone like Nate Parker in a heartbeat. Did I mention he is fine too? But let me tell you why I didn’t read this book or watch this movie for the longest time.
Nate Parker also raped someone while he was in college.
If y’all don’t know, sexual violence prevention is my life. It’s what I do for work and what I am super passionate about. I learned about Nate’s past shortly before the film was set to be released. Was this a coincidence? Probably not. But just because the news became public at a suspiciously inopportune time, doesn’t change his decision to not respect another person’s right to their bodily autonomy.
I was in the mindset that I could not support a rapist, no matter how great the project was for the Culture. This was when I first discovered cancel culture and felt like it was the only thing to do. This was a black and white issue. I struggle with the “separate the art from the artist” dilemma, and ultimately fell into the camp that you couldn’t separate the two. And I was ready to forgive him if he owned up to his mistake and took responsibility, but I was very much disappointed.
I have grown and learned a lot since then. I have gained new perspective about how we talk about people who cause sexual harm to other people. Notice I don’t mostly refer to him as a rapist? People should not be defined by the biggest mistake of their lives. And in some cases, you can separate the art from the artist (not R. Kelly. He unapologetically talks about not giving a flip about what he likes. He can stay cancelled. I got other cookout/wedding songs).
Don’t get it twisted though. I still think people who cause harm to others should be held accountable for their actions and take responsibility instead of denying another person’s experience. Therefore, I am still hella disappointed in his reaction and won’t fully be satisfied with him until he shows remorse for his actions and demonstrates dedication to doing better.
These are the feelings I felt after Kobe died too. He was elevated to a saint when people conveniently forgot he also sexually assaulted someone. It’s hard to hold space that he can be a legendary ball player, great dad, and had sexually assaulted someone, but it is possible. All these truths simultaneously exist.
I think I will try to see the movie now. I’m sure it is great. But I will still side-eye the heck out of Nate Parker. Hopefully he has done some private internal work? I’d like to hope this is the case and it isn’t some superficial image management.