Nate Parker: ‘Resistance Lives in the Air in This Current Moment’

By Sameer Rao Jan 22, 2016

"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," says Nate Parker about typecasting in a new story in The Hollywood Reporter. The 36-year-old’s current struggle centers around the journey to create and screen his new film, "The Birth of a Nation." 

Parker directed, produced, wrote and stars in the film as Nat Turner, the leader of the United States’ most prominent slave rebellion. "The Birth of a Nation"—one of Colorlines’ films to follow this year—will premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs until January 31. 

His entire interview with The Hollywood Reporter is worth a read in full, but here are a few choice quotes about his motivation for creating the film, the difficulties he encountered in funding it and the movie’s relevance to the contemporary racial justice climate.

Parker chose not to work for years after his role in romantic drama "Beyond the Lights," instead holding out until he could play Nat Turner:

"I was willing to stick to that—and if it was my lot to never act again, so be it," says Parker, who didn’t work for nearly two years, instead spending every minute—and nearly every dime—trying to get his passion project made.

He describes growing up in the South and not learning about Nat Turner:

"Growing up as a Black man in the South, there was such a shortage of heroism in respect to the history that I was taught," says Parker, who was a high school wrestling state champion and All-American at the University of Oklahoma. Parker didn’t even learn about Turner’s story (despite growing up in Virginia) until he took African-American studies classes in college. "Imagine my dismay," he says, "in learning that one of the greatest men to walk the soil in this country was a man who grew up and lived and breathed and fought less than 100 miles from where I grew up."

Parker was eventually put in positions, including a Sundance Lab fellowship (affiliated with the institute behind the film festival), where he could explain the ideas that would eventually become "The Birth of a Nation."After meeting resistance to the film’s controversial subject matter, he invested $100,000 of his own money before several co-producers came on board and secured the rest of the funding. 

Importantly, Parker addresses the film’s relevance to the current era of racial justice protests:

"Resistance lives in the air in this current moment," says Parker. "Anyone who sees this film should leave the theater and feel compelled to be a change factor with respect to relations that are taking place in this country. But also, they should be proud to be an American. This country was built on rebellion. So when we talk about American heroes, people that fought against an oppressive force, I think that it’s a no-brainer that Nat Turner exists in that conversation."

Read the full story here