Controversy surrounding
The Birth of a Nation

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

The movie The Birth of a Nation is now in theatres, and one’s decision to see the movie is hampered by stories surrounding the director and main character—Nate Parker’s past history of alleged rape while in college at Penn State. These are allegations in which the accused, Nate Parker, was exonerated and found innocent from an all-White jury.

Some people find the timing and negative coverage of Nate Parker, an African male, to be suspect at the least. He was found innocent of allegations of raping a White female who years later committed suicide. While the whole situation itself is unfortunate, bringing up the case at this time can be conceived as a calculating ploy by some in the media to distract and discourage movie goers (especially Whites) to see what many feel is a dark, uncomfortable and embarrassing part of our American history—still with consequences affecting our lives and institutions today.

Our history (whether good or bad) happened and can’t be changed. But it can be a pivotal learning tool in understanding our present position, helping us in going forward in a positive direction. Attempts to dilute or change history to make it politically correct, so as not to offend people, is unacceptable.

It is sad when smokescreens and diversions are manufactured to dilute or keep us from seeing pertinent facts and information denoting our past history—giving us a better understanding of the racial tensions we are experiencing today. History is the undisputable key to deciphering and understanding the present day social, economic and political environment.

Nate Parker’s marriage to a White woman has also initiated contention among many Blacks who feel that his position is hypocritical and compromises his effectiveness as a harbinger of Black consciousness and pride. Let’s not fall prey to personally critiquing the messenger to the point of missing the message, which can be enlightening and lifesaving. Too often, we let our prejudices rob us of knowledge, personal growth and truth.

Regardless of how one may feel, for whatever reasons, it should not keep you from seeing a good movie that takes you through a gamut of human emotions. The movie resonates feelings of love, hurt and acceptance that are universal and not relegated to any one group of people. In other words, despite how Blacks have historically been portrayed, they have always had the same humanity, competence, and emotions as their oppressors who thought they were better.

The movie may give African Americans a greater appreciation and respect for many of their ancestors who fought and died for freedom and equality. That is an inherent desire within all humans. The movie helps dismiss the teaching by some that we accepted our subservient and dehumanizing roles as slaves without much defiance and resistance. The fight for dignity, acceptance and equality was prevalent among many Black heroes and heroines who were willing to die in their struggle to make life better for themselves and future generations.

At times, the movie is graphic but very effective in giving the viewers realistic depictions of the treatment of slaves. It shows how passages from the Bible were manipulated and used as tools to support slavery. The indoctrination of the slaves as subhuman without a soul made it easier for their dehumanizing treatment by their oppressors. The audience can’t help but have empathy for the pain and suffering of the slaves, although you see some vestiges of humanity from the portrayal of some Whites.

The moviegoer could relate to the insurgency/ revolt led by Nate to that of Americans fighting for their independence from England. The need for freedom and equality is universal. Here you have a movie portraying the heroes as Blacks killing Whites, contrary to Whites killing or mistreating Blacks. It may make some Whites feel defensive, but you can’t change history just because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

The movie should not promote hate or revenge but give one a better understanding of the suffering of slaves as human beings with all the pending consequences of slavery. The movie should help one understand that current race relations are a negative stain in American history. Realistic action is needed for positive change. I feel it is a must see movie for everyone, especially for African Americans.