It would be a gross understatement to say that I have been eagerly awaiting Nate Parker’s rendition of Nat Turner’s August 21, 1831, insurrection. I also realize that I am not alone in this endeavor as I have heard droves of fellow historians ‘chomping at the bit’ to take Parker’s rendition of Nat Turner’s, Southampton County, Virginia rebellion apart.
My eagerness to do my part in highlighting the historical inaccuracies was further stoked when Parker recently related on 60 Minutes that his film was not historically accurate, rather ‘inspired’ by Turner’s rebellion. I mused to myself, ‘Oh, this is going to be much easier than I initially thought.’ Yet, my eagerness to dismantle Parker’s film was unexpectedly tempered when I entered a nearly entirely empty movie theater to view and critique The Birth of a Nation.
Now when I say that the movie theater was empty, I mean that it was Spike Lee Bamboozled type of empty; when I watched Lee’s most piercing film there were only 3 people in the theater when it began and only a single person, yours truly, left when the lights came on.
The fact that there were only eight people, including yours truly, in the theater immediately reiterated an unmistakable truth that Americans in general, and the vast majority of African-Americans in particular, have no interest in hearing, learning, engaging, or dialoguing over any subject or idea revolving around the African-American experience. I am certain that many will seek to refute this truth by stating that it was Nate Parker’s sordid past that caused people to not support this film, however, such logic falls flat on its face when one realizes that other African-American cinematic ventures, not even Spike Lee’s vaunted Malcolm X, are considered box office successes.
Although the official numbers are still being compiled, the partial view of Parker’s film relates that it was a box office failure having earned a paltry $2.6 million on opening night, a figure that all but guarantees its failure to reach $8 million dollars for its opening weekend. When compared to The Girl on the Train that earned $9.4 million on its opening night, a figure that projects toward a $26.5 million opening weekend, one can easily see that the vast majority of moviegoers do not believe that The Birth of a Nation is worthy of viewing. I must relate that I am not shocked by this occurrence.
When placed within the larger context of American race relations, one should not be surprised by the sparse attendance. It is actually to be expected when matters such as those raised by Nat Turner’s insurrection are raised in a nation that has absolutely refused to acknowledge either the positive or negative impact that Race, slavery, racial oppression, discrimination, and racism has had upon its historical evolution and current existence.
Unbelievably, American whites are joined by misguided blacks in their irrational belief that African-Americans should ignore not only the historic occurrences of racial bias, but also the contemporary racial disparities dividing the nation. It appears that such individuals foolishly believe that if all Americans would ignore racism, then this terminal cancer that has ravaged every aspect of this nation would miraculously disappear.
It is this nation’s continual avoidance of racial matters that has allowed this socioeconomic cancer to infect and ravage every aspect of American life. The alluded to ‘avoidance’ of equally difficult and troubling racial matters appears to be the preferred modus operandi of most Americans, regardless of their racial identity or ethnic make-up.
American citizens’ refusal to develop the knowledge base necessary to engage in an open and honest discussion capable of taking even a jab-step toward solving the American racial dilemma dooms it.
Although it appears that the box office failure of The Birth of a Nation was caused by Parker’s sordid past, the truth of the matter is that of all American traditions, the denigration and avoidance of acknowledging African-American contributions is this nation’s greatest tradition. Today, it may be the refusal of a multi-racial coalition of Americans to view The Birth of a Nation, tomorrow it will be a continuation of the historic white-washing of K-12 school curriculum or the construction of standardized tests that determine intelligence without the inclusion of a single query concerning the African-American experience.
Put simply, regardless of how it is manifested, it always equals up to the same thing. That being, an implicit assertion that persons of African descent are pariahs within a nation that Nat Turner would say belongs more to them than the whites who have not only oppressed them, but also on a moment-by-moment basis renew their determination to maintain their stranglehold upon every institution and resource found within its national borders.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race and Culture