In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, Oscar-nominated actor Hal Holbrook (“All the President’s Men,” “Into the Wild”) has defended Nate Parker’s embattled film “The Birth of a Nation” in the face of an “apparent rebuff at the box office.”
The film, which released Oct. 7, has managed to gross just $12 million at the domestic box office. Fox Searchlight spent $17.5 million to acquire the film at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
“It is an exceptional piece of artistry and a vital portrait of our American experience in trying to live up to ideals we say we have,” Holbrook wrote of the slavery drama. “No one should miss it — no one who respects our country and its long struggle to define itself.”
The actor goes on to express sorrow over the circumstances surrounding the film, and Parker, who came under fire in August when rape allegations stemming from a 1999 incident at Penn State University resurfaced and governed virtually all discourse surrounding the project.
“[L]et’s try for some honesty here,” Holbrook wrote. “If you want to make a list of the directors and actors who have rather public indiscretions, and who have in some cases been acquitted of them, start counting.”
An earlier version of the letter called attention to filmmaker Roman Polanski’s well-publicized criminal history. “‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ as I recall, had a similar tag on its director,” Holbrook originally wrote. The New York Times has since removed that sentence, noting in a correction that “[a]n earlier version of this letter referred imprecisely to another movie whose director was involved in controversy. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was released nine years before the rape case involving its director, Roman Polanski.”
No further mention of Polanski was added to the actual content of the letter.
“What troubles me is this: Are we being particular here with this extraordinary film because it’s about the racist curse we are struggling to erase from our country and its director is black,” Holbrook went on to ask. “The curse is there. Go look at it. Do we have the courage to do that? It’s a fine work.”
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs similarly called on audiences to see the film on its own terms when cornered by TMZ photographers in August.
“That’s one issue; that’s his personal issue,” Isaacs said about the allegations at the time. “And then there’s the issue of the movie. The important thing is for people to see it and enjoy the film, be impressed by the film. And I think that is what is very important. People need to see this movie.”