‘The Birth of a Nation’ Premieres at Sundance With Big Standing Ovation and Oscar Buzz

The Birth of a Nation Sundance
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” a brutal, emotionally charged drama about Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in 1831, received the most enthusiastic standing ovation at this year’s Sundance Film Festival so far.

The movie, which premiered on Monday afternoon, had the crowd at the Eccles Theater in Park City, Utah, cheering for Parker, who not only stars as Turner, but also directed, produced and wrote the picture.

“I made this film for one reason: creating change agents,” Parker said after the premiere in a Q&A where he brought more than 40 members of the cast and crew onstage. He noted that there are “systems in place that are corrupt and corrupted people, and the legacy of that still lives with us.”

Parker said he spent seven years working to get the film to the big screen. “It was extremely difficult for many reasons,” he said. “The first was our subject matter: anytime we are dealing with our history, specifically slavery, I found that desperately sanitized. There’s a resistance, I’ll say, to dealing with this material.” He said that financiers told him they weren’t sure there was an audience for the story, and that “people overseas don’t want to see people of color” in a movie.

“The Birth of a Nation’s” premiere couldn’t be more timely for Hollywood. The Oscars have come under fire in recent weeks for nominating only white actors for the second consecutive year. With the right distributor — and the big players from Fox Searchlight to Amazon were all in attendance — “The Birth of a Nation” could be the second major Oscars contender to premiere out of Sundance (Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By the Sea,” which debuted on Saturday, sold to Amazon for $10 million and a guarantee of an awards season push).

Although next year’s Oscars are still 13 months away, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Parker isn’t a strong contender for best actor. At the Q&A, Parker recalled how he told his agent that he wouldn’t take any more jobs as an actor until he got “The Birth of a Nation” made. “I put my own money in,” he said. “I sacrificed everything.” He also remembered some words of wisdom that George Lucas gave him on the set of 2012’s “Red Tails”: “When everyone is telling you something can’t be done,” Parker was told, “that’s how you know you’re on the right track.”

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  1. Matt says:

    I think we can read between the lines on this one.
    “Birth of a Nation suuuuuucks but critics name it “Movie of the Year” so they won’t be labeled racists”
    On a related topic”Blackula named “Greatest horror movie ever !” and “Posthumous OSCARS dating back to the 1920’s redistributed in the name of fairness”

  2. tlsnyder42 says:

    Why don’t they do a movie about the black female capitalist that Dinesh D’Souza told in his last documentary?

  3. Ed Keishling says:

    It fazes me that people can watch a movie on the French Revolution and praise the democracy it created, even though it necessarily meant killing all the elite, including children and women. How do you people function in the real world is beyond me. There is no rebellion and revolution without deaths, unfortunately. If anything we should look at this film and make sure we don’t treat humans like garbage anymore. What kind of response would it be expected from people being captive and treated like animals? Would you have tea with a serial killer keeping you in their cellar or kill them to free yourself? What a bunch of delusional individuals. No wonder America is going downhill.

  4. IanRousseault says:

    I don’t think we need more slave films. Enough already! We as people of color have more stories to tell!

    • naim atawan says:

      unfortunately, those are the only movies that get recognized when it comes to people of color. Let it be about a black professor or something intellectual and its not worth consideration.

  5. crossie says:

    For the first time ever, the commenters on Variety have impressed me; then, of course, after they accomplished getting Variety to change the picture, the racist comments instantly start up, with a side of non-sequitur anti-Semitism thrown in for flavor.

  6. Great. A movie about Nat Turner who led a 2-day rebellion with a sole purpose to spread “terror and alarm” among whites. They killed 60 men, women and children, then he hid for 2 months, was arrested and hanged. Subsequent legislation retaliated against anti-slavery movement and devastated the black community. Knowing the reaction of today’s society, let’s pray that this doesn’t create open season on white killings when released.

    • D Patton says:

      Perhaps we will stop telling all history in movie platform, such as the story of internment camps so the Japanese don’t start “killing white people” or Auschwitz so the Jews don’t start “killing white people” and those Native Americans let us just forget that entirely. Let us not continue to tell new generations the stories of history because once, YET AGAIN, white people might in some way be uncomfortable.

      • Well stated. If Americans are too sensitive to FACTS of history, then they should definitely not read about them and most assuredly NOT attend films about them…THEY will not likely be entertained OR enlightened to any significant degree.

      • carla says:

        This is a part of American history as ugly and vile as it may be… being enslaved and abused by the hands of their owners happened and when I read comments from people that don’t really want to look at the reality of this situation and the consequences it caused, makes me realize until we look at our past from both sides of the equation, then moving forward and making the future better will always be diminished and unjust.

    • Yes, because slavery was just “business” and the slaves doing nothing would have ended slavery so much quicker, and the slaves would have been much happier and safer just letting things be as they were. If not for “Nat Turner’s 2 day rebellion” that is. It’s not as if Black/African slaves were being forced into bondage, beaten, brutalized, demeaned, mistreated, raped and tortured. There are just so many stories passed down through the generations of Black/African slaves sharing how much they loved “their work” and how they were in America for the “opportunities” it afforded them, and to build a safe and happy lives for themselves and their progeny. It’s a film depicting an event in American history. Not a call to arms.

    • Hmmm, i guess white people only like these types of movies when it’s the white man doing the murdering and spreading terror. Imagine that.

  7. Keith IV says:

    This story affected the life of my Great-great-great-great grandma Ella.
    coming out of South Hampton County VA.
    As a child I heard this story and how it altered our family.. As an African-American I am even prouder to know that my people fought back as best they could

  8. dan johnson says:

    let me guess they dont show them killing white women and children (which they did) and not 1 jew to be seen even though they ran the slave trade and were more prominent slave owners?

  9. Kai Siobhan says:

    Nate directed, starred, produced etc. this film but you couldn’t see your way clear to posting a pic of him? Who are these white dudes?

  10. Sexracist says:

    You folks must not read Variety much. This publication bends over backwards to exploit every possible story with a connection to racial politics for a pro-“diversity” agenda. Hence hyping this movie for Oscars 13 months away in the midst of the ongoing controvery.

  11. So tell me Variety, were there no pictures of Nat Turner in the press kit? Or do you think 3 white guys better illustrates a story about a black leader?

  12. Me says:

    Jesus Christ! I thought this was the DW Griffith version! MAN! They’d boycott the Oscars!

  13. Truth is stranger than fiction says:

    What dufus put a still shot of three white guys up on the article about ‘Birth of a Nation,’ for crying out loud?

  14. JH says:

    I had the exact same thought! Why this pic??

  15. BD says:

    Yeah. I hate when people complain and complain, but you do have to wonder, with the subject and the director/cast of this film being what it is, was it really necessary to put the picture with three white guys under the headline? Sometimes people complain over everything and anything…but sometimes people are just asking for it too. There are other pictures out there including some with Parker (director, writer, star) on them.

  16. hellifiknow says:

    LMAO soooo true The Observer….Variety you don’t have a pic of Nate Parker…..so making the point of how Hollywood sees the world!!!!

  17. The Observer says:

    Nice going Variety.
    A story about a black guy getting a movie made about slavery and you put a picture of three white guys under the headline.

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