Tag Archives: Nate Parker

Now that Nate Parker’s apologized, will you see “The Birth of a Nation”?

Image.net/Getty Images
Image.net/Getty Images

I’ve belabored the idea of writing this post because, honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out for myself exactly where I fall on the issue of Nate Parker. To be more specific, I’d been waiting to see if he’d ever issue a fuller apology after the various non-apologies he gave after the news of his 1999 rape case blew up in the media (a part of his past he’s apparently always kept in the limelight, although, if you ask many Twitter denizens including myself, we didn’t know about it). Thankfully(?) he did. But the question mark I write here is for a reason: does the apology actually help matters, or does it just make us more jaded about him? Also, does the apology help the case for whether or not we individually decide to see what has been called the most important film of 2016, his passion project The Birth of a Nation?

Parker has been on radio silence for a while since his Facebook admission a few weeks ago, once he found out the woman who accused him of rape and lived with her own trauma from that day (and the subsequent harassment by Parker and his friend/co-writer and the other half of the 1999 rape case Jean Celestin) killed herself. This seemed to be when Parker’s eyes were finally opened to the fact that yes, someone other than him had feelings associated with the case. Somehow, it took this woman’s death for Parker to actually realize that maybe he should have considered this woman as a human being, not as an object out to target him. If anyone was playing target practice, it was Parker himself.

To Parker’s credit, he owns up to this in his most recent and most candid interview with Ebony‘s Britni Danielle.

“I called a couple of sisters that [I] know are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions. What did I do wrong? Because I was thinking of myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. I didn’t think about her then, and I didn’t think about her when I was saying those statements, which was wrong and insensitive.”

He admits that he never grew up with a clear outline of what consent actually consisted of: according to him, all he knew of consent was if a woman said no, that meant no. But in his mind as a 19-year-old, according to him, if there was no verbal consent given, then he figured it was then all about seeing how far he could go.

“Put it this way, when you’re 19, a threesome is normal. It’s fun. When you’re 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about—for me, back then—if you can get a girl to say yes, you win. …I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged–and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general.”

Throughout the interview, he discusses how he’s just now waking up to toxic masculinity culture and how he’s profited from it. He even apologized to the women who have felt offended and hurt by his remarks, and he went one step further and apologized for homophobic remarks he made years earlier. But while he’s realized how much he needs to grow, there’s still the question of if we should actually go see The Birth of a Nation and put money in his pocket. He’s still the face of the film, so should the movie and its message get stuck in the crosshairs or is the message now invalid because of the messenger? (Related: If we’re rightly holding Parker’s feet to the fire, when will Hollywood do the same for other so-called “imperfect messengers” like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen? They are also happy recipients of toxic masculinity as well as white male privilege. When will people rise up and declare they won’t see their films? I know I’m not the only one who is filled with disgust whenever a new Woody Allen project is all the buzz, with stars tripping over themselves to be in it.)

Parker wants us to believe he’s turning a new page in his life. There’s ample reason in his statements for those inclined to believe him to do so. There’s also ample reason for those who don’t believe him to not trust a single thing he said.

Parker is asked to address the idea that many folks will have, which is that he’s suddenly come to this fantastic realization about toxic male privilege now that 1) his movie’s success hangs in the balance (he’s already had one screening/Q&A session cancelled) and most importantly 2) he’s realized the woman he wronged died because of her trauma. On one hand, it’s a sad state of affairs when someone else’s death has to be a wake-up call that you royally messed up. The fact that he couldn’t even think outside of himself when it came to the victim’s feelings is, to be blunt, disturbing. Just because he felt like he didn’t do anything wrong because of his poor definition of consent clearly doesn’t mean he was right. He states in the interview that it was wrong of him to think of himself as the victim because to do so, after you’ve severely damaged someone else because of your actions, takes a lot of ignorance, ego, and a lack of self-awareness.

On the other hand, if Parker really has seen the light, so to speak, then doesn’t he deserve a chance to grow into his newfound awareness?

Parker says he wants to be a leader. I think “leader” is a bridge too far; you can’t lead when you don’t know what you’re talking about, and Parker clearly still needs help not centering the act and its aftermath around him and his feelings. Parker says he’s taking this all with humility, and I suggest he take even higher doses of humility because it shouldn’t take having a wife and daughter yourself to realize that women deserve respect whether they say yes, no, or nothing at all. No one is supposed to take what isn’t given, and Parker still seems to rest his conscience on the idea that because he didn’t know what true consent meant as a 19-year-old, everyone must have thought the same thing. Parker’s going to have a rude awakening when he realizes that no, not every teenager grows up thinking threesomes are cool, or that being a dog is awesome, or that a girl not giving a clear yes means that consent is there. Somewhere along the way, Parker missed some key life lessons, and masculinity culture allowed him to believe that he’d never need those lessons.

What I do think, though, is that perhaps Parker could try to parlay his newfound awakening into becoming a self-appointed example of What Not To Do. When it comes to being a leader in the battle against gender discrimination, he’s going to have to tell boys and men like him to change. Those are the only people can he speak to on that front.

His very first lesson to that select group should be to become aware of what traumas and experiences the women in their lives have had to deal with. Keep in mind, he states in the interview that h didn’t even know that some of the women who worked on The Birth of a Nation were rape survivors. I can only assume he’s referencing Gabrielle Union in that group, who has spoken about her trauma before. If he didn’t know that, especially since she plays a sexual assault victim in the movie, then that speaks volumes to the lack of awareness he had about how deeply rooted women’s pain is tied to violent masculinity.

If he plans on doing some good and make a difference, he must speak to the young Nate Parkers of America and tell them to become acquainted with their own role in toxic masculinity, just as he had to. He must tell them to learn the histories of their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends. He must tell them to know of the smallest slight a woman can face to the greatest injustice they have to silently bear. In short, he must tell them to quit thinking of women as conquests, objects and toys, and to them of them as human beings worthy of respect, both in words and actions.

All of this goes back to the central question: Should we forgive Parker and see The Birth of a Nation, a film we were all pumped for before this news broke? I can’t answer that for you. It will have to be a personal decision you make for yourself.

As for me: I originally stated at the start of this scandal that I couldn’t see myself going to the film. My thought now though is that I’m conflicted, quite honestly. The Birth of a Nation is a film we probably won’t get to see again for some time, sadly. The story of Nat Turner is one too important to American history, and it’s truly a shame it hasn’t been made into a film until now. But what happens if we miss The Birth of a Nation and are never presented with another opportunity to see Nat Turner’s story on screen until another 100 years from now? What also happens to honoring the work made by Union and Aja Naomi King, who both star in this film? Should their contributions to the film be ignored because Parker is at the helm? It is easy to dismiss Parker, but unfortunately, is dismissing the film also forcing us to dismiss Union and King?

I’ve asked myself these questions, and I still don’t have an answer as to what I’m going to do once the film opens in theaters. We’ll see when the time comes. Now I turn it over to you: What are you going to do? Let me know in the comments section!

EDIT: One of the comments got me to thinking about my own answer to my own question: would I go see this movie? And the answer has to be no. A woman did die, after all.

As the commenter intimated, the hangup over the film shouldn’t really exist, so I had been thinking about why the hangup was there to begin with. I had attempted to address that in this article the first time around, but I think Elahe Izadi sums up what I was trying to get at even better with her Washington Post article about the situation. She writes, in part:

For other artists embroiled in controversy, it can be easier for audiences to dismiss their work if it’s more trivial in nature. Take Woody Allen, who was investigated years ago amid accusations that he molested the daughter he adopted with Mia Farrow. He hasn’t faced criminal charges and has denied the allegations, while many prominent Hollywood figures, as well as the daughter, have said they believe he’s guilty. Allen’s films may be creatively groundbreaking, funny or critically acclaimed, but he’s not telling a story Hollywood has never told before or paving the way for a much needed national conversation.

Then there’s R. Kelly, who was acquitted of child pornography charges and has faced numerous allegations of sexually assaulting underage girls. People like R. Kelly’s music simply because it’s entertaining, aesthetically good or ironically funny — not because it’s profound. But the content of his work can make it difficult to ignore the allegations — his music is about sex. Some refuse to listen to it because they think he’s guilty.

Interacting with “The Birth of a Nation” feels different. Parker has called the project “a healing mechanism for America.” That’s a tall order.

Maybe if there were more films like it out there already, the stakes wouldn’t seem so high.

I’ve bolded the last sentence since that’s really the part I’d been struggling with and annoyed by, to understate it; because of Hollywood’s initial lack of interest in these stories, it’s left the moviegoing public and Oscar voters tho choose between a film in which the stakes are very high for itself (and others like it) and their own morality, to be blunt. However, a film shouldn’t have to have such high stakes, and this film wouldn’t if there were other films of its kind out there. If Hollywood had always invested in diverse and inclusive filmmaking, the choice to see or not see this film would be easier for some. However, I personally shouldn’t have to seriously weigh my conscience before seeing a film. So the final answer is no, I can’t see this film and think I could live in alignment with myself.

Diversity Alert: “Star Wars: Episode VIII”, Ava DuVernay, “Roots” and “Underground” TV Trailers+ More

There’s a couple of big ticket items to discuss! Topping the list is Star Wars: Episode VIII, Ava DuVernay’s projects, and some trailers from Roots and Underground.

Star Wars: Episode VIII

The biggest news of this week is the beginning of filming for Star Wars: Episode VIII! John Boyega, who just won a Rising Star BAFTA the night before filming, tweeted out this declaration Monday.

 

Other big news surrounding Episode VIII is the additional casting. Coming to the already diverse cast list are Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who has worked with Sarah Hyland in XOXO and has various TV credits, including TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and NBC’s About a Boy.  

Star Wars released this official production announcement, which is also marks the start of the Star Wars hype machine once again. 

Ava DuVernay’s film and TV projects

Ava DuVernay is doing major things right now! First, she’s working with Oprah on the OWN adaptation of Queen Sugar. The first table read happened Sunday, and DuVernay chronicled it on Twitter:

Also, DuVernay is in contention to direct two films: the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (a very creepy book, if you ask me), and Intelligent Life, a sci-fi thriller potentially starring Lupita Nyong’o. The latter film is what’s exciting me the most, since black women in sci-fi is still a revolutionary thing to see (Nyong’o also’s got her sci-fi scorecard filled up thanks to Star Wars, but even in that, she’s simply voicing a character, not appearing as herself on screen, something a lot of viewers took issue with). But all of this directorial news is encouraging, given the #OscarsSoWhite climate we’re in. DuVernay’s upcoming jobs are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to Hollywood fixing its diversity-behind-the-camera problems, but her opportunities do show that 1) Hollywood can act responsibly when it feels like it; it’s ineffectiveness is just mostly due to laziness and status-quo thinking over anything and 2) that the talent of people of color (in this case, women of color) can and will be recognized, despite the fractured systems that were created to keep them out and on the sidelines.

Roots and Underground

The trailers for History’s Roots remake and WGN’s upcoming slave series Underground have left me impressed, and I’m sure you’ll be just as impressed by them as well. Below are the trailers as well as the Underground first look. On a shallow note: Kunta Kinte’s turbans are my favorite things ever. Roots premieres Memorial Day; Underground premieres March 9.

(Read about my EW Community articles about the original Roots and the upcoming Underground here and here!)

The Danish Girl

If you loved The Danish Girl, it’s coming to DVD/Blu-ray March 1. If you want to rewatch it even earlier than that, the digital download will be available Feb. 16.

Here are the pertinent deets via Universal Pictures’ press release:

With love comes the courage to be yourself in The Danish Girl, coming to Digital HD onFebruary 16, 2016, and Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand on March 1, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. Inspired by the lives of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener, the remarkable love story is “a cinematic landmark,” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. The Danish Girl on Blu-rayand DVD comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. The Focus Features release is nominated for four Academy Awards® including Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne), Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado), and Best Production Design (Production Designer, Eve Stewart; Set Decorator, Michael Standish).

Academy Award® winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Academy Award® nominee Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) star for Academy Award®-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech and Les Misérables). In the 1920s, a strong and loving marriage evolves as Gerda Wegener (Vikander) supports Lili Elbe (Redmayne) during her journey as a transgender woman. Through the other, each of them finds the courage to be who they are at heart. “Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are sensational!” declares Access Hollywood’s Scott Mantz, while Debruge of Variety raves, “Redmayne gives the greatest performance of his career.”

Also starring Ben Whishaw (Skyfall), Sebastian Koch (Homeland), Amber Heard (Zombieland), and Matthias Schoenaerts (Far from the Madding Crowd), The Danish Girl is a moving and sensitive portrait that Lou Lumenick of The New York Post calls “a remarkable and timely story.”

BLU-RAYTM AND DVD BONUS FEATURE:

  • The Making of The Danish Girl – Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hooper, and others on the filmmaking team share some of the creative processes that enhanced the beauty of the movie.

Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!
 

Casting News:

Zhang Ziyi to Star in ‘East/West’ Comedy for Universal

American Gods Author Neil Gaiman on Why Casting The 100s Ricky Whittle as Shadow Is So Vital 

Idris Elba in Talks for the Lead in The Mountain Between Us

John Ridley’s ABC Pilot ‘Presence’ Casts Marcus Anderson

Archie Panjabi to Star in ABC Anthology Drama ‘The Jury’

Other News:

How a Bruce Lee Origin Tale Is Taking Flight With Chinese Money and Abundant Diplomacy

Sundance Fights Tide With Films Like ‘The Birth of a Nation’

The Magicians’ Arjun Gupta on Hollywood Diversity and Penny’s Portrayal in the 4th Episode

What do you think of these stories? Give your comments below!

#OscarsSoWhite: More Discussion, New Open Letters Published

TONS of Oscar news, I tell ya! Tons of it! The battle for diversity in the Oscar nominations has gotten bigger than anyone thought it would get (including me, which might surprise you—I vacillate between cynicism and optimism) . Here’s what’s been happening so far.

Will Smith will not attend the Oscars after all. You can read more about his comments at Entertainment Weekly, but just know that during his Good Morning America exclusive he said these points: 1) he didn’t know about his wife’s plan to release a video, 2) he feels his wife would have made a video whether or not he was nominated (despite his concession that perhaps the lack of a Concussion nomination was the catalyst for Pinkett Smith’s feelings), and 3) this issue is about more than him and Concussion; it’s about the whole industry.

Mark Ruffalo heavily weighed not going to the Oscars over the course of Thursday. First, he said to BBC News that he was considering joining the boycott, saying, “I woke up in the morning thinking, what is the right way to do this? Because if you look at Martin Luther King’s legacy, what he was saying was, the good people who don’t act are much worse than the people, the wrongdoers that are purposely not acting and don’t know the right way.” Later on Twitter, Ruffalo gave his final decision and his reasoning:

50 Cent and Tyrese Gibson want Chris Rock to boycott the Oscars, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. But personally, I want Chris Rock to host and slay the game. Embarrassing the Academy on live television is the type of righteous pettiness I can get behind.

• Viola Davis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Quincy Jones are among other actors who are calling for more diversity in the Oscar voting pool. Davis, who was nominated for her role in The Help (a role indicative of the kind of roles the Oscars nominate for black people), said that the Oscar issue is indicative of a much larger societal problem. To quote The Hollywood Reporter:

“It’s not the Oscars. The Oscars are a symptom of a much greater issue and that’s the issue of the Hollywood movie-making system. How many more movies are being made that have this in it,” she asks as she points to the color of her skin. “More films need to be made wher we can shine. That’s the bottom line. The opportunity does not match the talent. There needs to be more opportunity, that’s just it. And you have to invest in it.”

Nyong’o, who won for her role in 12 Years a Slave (a slave role, another type the Oscars love for black people), posted this on Instagram:

Jones, who is the first black person to be added to the Academy board of governors, said to the National Association of Television Program Executives conference Wednesday that said he intends to address the diversity issue with the AMPAS board next week. “I’m going to ask the board to let me speak for five minutes on this lack of diversity. We’ve got to find a solution. It’s been going on for too long,” he said, according to Variety.

Brie Larson threw her support behind #OscarsSoWhite with this Instagram post:

Reese Witherspoon also called for more attention to the nominations outrage, writing on Facebook (and lauding TIME Magazine):

I really appreciated this article in TIME on the lack of racial and gender diversity in this year’s Oscar…

Posted by Reese Witherspoon on Thursday, January 21, 2016

• Other actors are furthering the diversity discussion by talking more about the industry at large. Idris Elba recently spoke to British Parliament about the lack of roles for black British actors, saying “Talent is there, opportunity isn’t, [a]nd talent can’t reach opportunity”(you can read the transcript here). On Twitter, Elba called the speech “the mot important speech I ever made.”

Nate Parker, who is playing slave rebel leader Nat Turner in the upcoming film Birth of a Nation (a film he wrote, produced and directed), said that too many of the roles for black men lack “integrity.” “As a black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do,” he said to The Hollywood Reporter. “Historically, and this is truly my feeling, generally speaking we as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings, or being in the center [of] our own narrative driving it forward.”

Dustin Hoffman told BBC News (as reported by The Hollywood Reporter) that that lack of inclusion with Oscar noms is indicative of America’s racist history, calling it “subliminal racism.”

“In our country, there’s a subliminal racism, and it’s been there…the end of the Civil War didn’t change that,” he said on the red carpet of the National TV Awards. “It’s only been 200 years, this is just an example of it.” He also said, “Other than black entertaiiners being nominated, there’s a bigger problem with young black individuals being killed on our streets by police. That’s a bigger problem.”

• The Los Angeles Times has also addressed that it’s not just black people denigrated by the lack of Oscar nominations and the industry; the Times‘ Susan King points out that it’s been 54 years since a Latina won an Oscar, and an Asian actress hasn’t won in 58 years. Ben Johnson, of Cherokee and Irish descent won an Oscar in 1971, and no other indigenous person  who was nominated for an Oscar has won since.

• Some of the Oscar voters themselves have come out to The Hollywood Reporter on the defensive, with some saying that they feel it’s unfair to imply that they are racist (even though no one applied the word “racist” and the consensus doesn’t account for a more nuanced reading of the outrage fans and other Oscar voters have). Others have also said that the battle should be with the industry, not with them.

• Despite what some of the offended Oscar voters are saying, many of the current and former Academy brass are working on getting their members in check. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson had an op-ed published in The Hollywood Reporter, stating that this moment in time is an “inflection point.” To quote a piece:

“There’s not one part of the industry that doesn’t need to be addressed, and it’s been this way for 25 years. The needle has hardly moved. It’s cultural, it’s institutional, it’s our society at large, it’s our education system–all of it–before you get to an industry that’s supposed to reflect this beautiful world. And the indstury has been building up over a very log time, starting with white men running the studios who hire other people who look like them. It hasn’t changed that much, and it won’t until there’s a concerted effort on every single front: talent, the executives in the studios, the people we mentor.”

The former Academy president, Hawk Koch, wrote in a passionate open letter to the Hollywood industry (published in The Hollywood Reporter) that a boycott won’t solve anything, but changing the industry will. Quoting the letter:

“…[C]learly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled an all under represented gropus. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.”

All of this and more will probably be discussed this Tuesday when AMPAS will meet for a routine meeting next Tuesday. One of the governors told Entertainment Weekly that “[i]t promises to be a long and adventuresome night.”

News about #OscarsSoWhite is still developing as we speak, so we’ll see what happens in the coming days.