In light of the fiasco surrounding Nate Parker, and thus, his upcoming film, The Birth of A Nation in which Parker is the star, producer, director, and co-writer, I’ve been asked several times if I'm going to see the film.
I've already seen it. And I typically don't go to the theatre to see movies I've already seen at a screening. So to announce, “I am not going to see it!” is sanctimonious and silly. It’s not like I’m sacrificing anything. But I would like to see it again. I want to sit with it and dissect it this time.
That's only part of the reason I haven't joined the unofficial boycott of The Birth of A Nation. The other part? Honestly? I’ve been waiting for Nate Parker to pull his sh—together and fix this mess. It’s been two weeks since the story of his 1999 rape charges surfaced in national publications, and he hasn’t done that yet. As such, I still have moral conflict about going to the theatre. Unless that's resolved, I'm sitting this one out. There are too many things worthy of a having a moral conflict over. A movie— I don’t care who it’s about or how good it is— isn’t one of them.
I want to explain my decision. Nate Parker did a horrible thing many, many years ago. And after he was in the middle of a media storm resulting from the interviews he did with Variety and Deadline addressing his 1999 rape accusations, he said as much.
“There are things more important than the law” Parker wrote in a Facebook statusupdate last week. “There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation… I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
My problem with Parker is less about his past that cannot be changed and more about his recent interviews with Variety and Deadline where he sounded like a man who had not properly reflected upon his moral shortcomings. Addressing his 1999 rape accusations, which most people didn’t know about, he came across so smug, so dismissive, so self-centered as if he’s learned nothing about rape, consent, accountability, the value of women he isn’t related to, or even how to make a decent apology. I read those interviews and I felt like that Tyra clip from ANTM where she was yelling at the girl, "I was rooting for you! We were all rooting for you! How dare you!"
If Parker said in his initial interviews what he finally did in his Facebook post after all hell broke loose, he would have a lot more people rooting for him now, trying to work with a Brother. On Facebook, he sounded apologetic, contrite, like he “got it.” But because of the timing, because he sounded so different than his scheduled interviews, his prepared statement came across as less than sincere, and more like a desperate man trying to save himself and his magnum opus.
I am withholding my support for Parker because I have to, not because I want to. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of women who are up in arms about Parker, myself included, take no joy in it.
Women are tired of being asked to overlook men's unrepentant misogyny. TIRED. Nate Parker isn’t the first to screw up. And he won't be the last. But how many more folk are women expected to turn a blind eye to? We're supposed to shut up about King's affairs because he had a dream. And Tyson's rape because he could fight and sounded funny using big words. And Kellz because he could sing everything from opera to hip-hop to classic R&B. And Cosby because he created The Cosby Show and A Different World which were positive images of black people. And countless rappers ‘cause they can rhyme, even if it’s about “hos” over a catchy beat. And now Parker too just because he can act, produce and direct all at once?
Ugh! When do women become the priority? Why are we expected to support the works of shady men and pretend their misogyny, their abuse, and their disregard isn’t problematic? When do we say enough?
For many, it’s right now.
Don't mistake the roots of Parker’s backlash for something they are not. What you see on the surface is rage, but underneath that is a vast disappointment. It was women who filled the theatres to see The Great Debaters and Beyond the Lights. We were the ones bringing men along for #datenight. We supported Parker, swooned for him, some of us even championed him as “the next Denzel”. On screen and off, he presented himself like the type of guy you want to marry, or you want your son to be or your daughter to date. He sold the dream and we bought it one ticket at a time. We liked supporting him. We were anticipating his upcoming film. We wanted to give him our money.
Everyday that passes since Nate Parker broke this story to Variety and Deadline, I am more disappointed in him and his team. I want to see this movie. But I want to do so without feeling like I’m supporting a man who doesn't get the gravity and depravity of his actions. I have been waiting for Parker to do something that makes me feel it’s okay to support him.
My God, man! Stop sitting in the hidey hole and announce a high school/ college/church tour in conjunction with a leading anti-rape organization to talk about consent/rape/"no means no". Upload a PSA in conjunction with a survivor’s advocacy organization to educate people about consent. Write a large check to a rape crisis center. Has no one on his team heard of restorative justice?
I can’t go see The Birth of A Nation. And for the folks that don’t get it, understand that supporting this movie is like supporting a white director making a great film about the black experience (say like Norman Jewison and A Soldier’s Story.) And then you find out the director was in the Klan twenty years ago. And then when he does interviews about his past Klan activity, he speaks of it with little remorse, and keeps talking about his best friends are black. Would you support that film?
If you want to see The Birth of A Nation, by all means, go. Enjoy. But stop asking folks who are morally outraged to go along with you.