Perhaps as a response to “Oscars so white..” or the lack of dialogue about the embedded racism in America’s history, Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” enjoys immense success at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The historical drama centers around the life of Nat Turner, who in 1831, incited a rebellion that took 60 white lives but provoked retaliation that killed 200 African Americans. Set in the Antebellum south, the scene is graced with elegant Virginia willows and stately plantation houses, yet manages to avoid glorifying the men and women who owned them. As a literate African American slave, Turner is convinced to preach to the plantation workers about obedience. First using passages from the bible to subdue insurrection, Turner begins to urge a break from subservience and fans a growing anticipation for a revolt. Parker, who wrote, directed, produced, and played the starring role of Turner, masterfully intertwines inner dialogue and external calamities that can both define and destroy an individual. His complex characters embody both human cruelty and capability for empathy, leaving the audience questioning whether sacrifices can or should be made for justice and human happiness.
Bids for the movie began immediately after the screening, and offers came pouring in from various companies such as Netflix and Sony. Byron Allen from Entertainment Studios bid an outstanding sum $20 million, but worldwide rights were sold to Fox Searchlight for 17.5 million instead. The company’s success with “Twelve Years a Slave” made it a perfect candidate and finalized the decision. So far, “Birth of a Nation” has the largest offer at Sundance. From the amount of new voices displayed at the festival (almost a third of the directors were female), 2016 looks like a good year for diversity and refreshing perspectives in film.