From February 4-15 Rave Cinema 15 at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles hosts the 24th Pan African Film Festival. #PAFF (as it’s been abbreviated) is one of the few festivals on an international scale celebrate African-American art. Filmmakers, directors, writers, actors, and producers of African descent from across the world gather together to showcase some of the brightest films of the year and discuss the current climate of Black art in this country.
The Festival consists of a mixture of film screening and special “one on one” events with creators who worked on the films. One of the round table type discussions of the festival was A Conversation with Nate Parker [Saturday, February 6].
As an actor, Nate Parker can be seen in the films The Great Debaters, Pride, Red Tails, and Beyond the Lights. His talents however do not stop at acting. Parker is also credited as a director, writer, and producer. He has both written and directed short films #AmeriCan and J.A.W. His newest endeavor is one he’s taking on as not only director and writer, but lead role as well. This project is one Parker has been working on for over seven years and was the topic of conversation at the #PAFF speaking event. Birth of a Nation is its title, a film about the Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia.
For those unaware (which most are, due to the sensitivity of our American history books) the Nat Turner rebellion was a slave rebellion that took place in Jerusalem, Virginia, a town in Southampton County, Virginia in August 1831. Nat Turner, a revolutionary man of God, lead this revolt against the horribly racist and oppressive white slave masters of Southampton County, killing between 55 and 65 people. This is the most casualties caused by a slave revolt in American history. It’s obvious to see why this lesson has been left out of history books nationwide.
At the discussion, Parker went into depth about his reasoning for making a film about such an important event and the years of research and development that went into making this thing possible. Joining him as panelists were Dr. Gerald Horne who’s been called the “modern day W.E.B. DuBois” and movie producer Preston Holmes, Parker’s right hand in creating this picture.
To start the conversation, Parker was asked where he started with this story. Parker has put a lot on hold, including his acting career, to make sure this story is told and that itself is a huge sacrifice.
“…I relied heavily on a very sanitized miss-education when I was a kid and very seldom saw myself reflected in what I was being taught about heroism and about courage, about integrity and was left with heroes that played basketball and threw footballs and played other sports; so, those were my ambitions when it came to success. It wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to Nat Turner and his legacy.”
Parker went on to explain Nat Turner has been his personal hero since he was in college and he always knew he would be the one to bring this role to life. He sees this film as an opportunity to open the door to more African American writers and directors to “reclaim and take back [the African American] narrative” and tell stories accurately as they happened and not bend history to the will of a few.
As the conversation went on, Parker went on to explain more passionately why he felt this story should be told.
“I was taught that we [Black people] laid down, were stomped down, and pushed down and that Honest Abe with his top hat showed up and said enough was enough and freed us and that was that so to learn that there were people that stood up and to learn about Nat Turner and thorough my research of Nat Turner to learn and Denmark Vesey and to learn about Toussaint Louverture all these courageous men and women like Sojourner Truth…I never learned about anything other than the suffering and endurance. I never learned about resistance.”
In its purest form, this film is meant to inspire a nation, much like the D.W. Griffith film of the same name. The earlier Birth of A Nation was a film about the Ku Klux Klan obliterating the Black population to ensure Caucasian survival in America. This was the first 12-reel film shown in America.
That 1915 film influenced the KKK to grow to four million members in the next year and helped to shape the mind of this country. Parker’s goal with his film is to help undo that conditioning of American culture that was created by Griffith and empower people of color to band together in righteousness against oppression in this country.
Sundance has recently purchased this film for $17.5 million and there’s no word on when it will hit theaters, but Parker assured the audience it has been set up to release at an instrumental time when it will have the most impact and it’s our job as a community to support it when it does.
The Source will be covering the rest of the 2016 #PAFF, so stay tuned for more coverage of events and film reviews.