Some black folks complain at all the slave movies that keep showing up in theaters and will refuse to go. Some black folks complain at all the Tyler Perry ‘Madea’ movies showing up in theaters, but always seem to fill the seats.
The Nat Turner movie, “Birth of a Nation,” hits theaters this week, not without its share of controversy. In many ways, it’s a slave movie that compares to “Django Unchained” where slaves are shown fighting back, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
“The Birth of a Nation,” recounts a violent 1831 slave rebellion where Nat Turner and crew killed white men, women, and children but they didn’t get away with it. The NYT writes that the fear is that “Birth” will evoke present-day outrage over fatal police shootings of black men.
They write that the studio wants “Birth of a Nation” to inspire but not incite. The studio operatives have distributed guides to roughly 80,000 churches that contain suggestions for weaving the film and its themes into sermons and classroom study materials were made available to more than 30,000 teachers.
Fox Searchlight had conducted focus group research to see if “The Birth of a Nation” might be viewed as a call to aggression and concluded there was no risk. Even so, the studio leaned into its effort to position the film as a specific type of provocation — a peaceful one. They even found a black pastor to help in their efforts.
“Part of our work has been to distill that ‘rise up’ message down,” said Rev. Marshall Mitchell, who is the pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Jenkintown, Pa.
I don’t recall “Django” inciting anything but laughter even with its Scarface-like final scene where the black guy gets in a shootout with the slave owner and walks away as the victor.
Maybe “Django” didn’t stir a riot because it was a fictional story. The fear mongers may be afraid of “Birth” because it’s a true story.
A Widener University professor who is an expert on Nat Turner says, “A lot of them still think of him as a bad man or a monster even.”
History professor, Dr. Sarah Roth created a new digital archive about Turner’s life and times called the Nat Turner Project. The new hub is believed to be a first for this controversial yet historically significant individual.
The Philadelphia Daily News says, it’s reassuring to know that instructors like Roth are in the educational trenches pushing back against misperceptions. Roth was quoted as saying, “…we talk about George Washington, who was this great military leader who went up against the British against all odds and who used violence to get what he believed in and what he was fighting for right. And yet Nat Turner is a bad man and a monster. How is that possible? He was doing the exact same thing. He just lost.”
There probably won’t be any laughs in “Birth of a Nation.” There probably won’t be any riots either. Yet, there will be a lot of nervous people keeping an eye on how this movie is received.