Oscar-Nominated Actor Hal Holbrook Defends Nate Parker, ‘Birth of a Nation’

Hal Holbrook Dead
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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.”

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  1. Ari Manuel says:

    Goodness, quickly glancing at the picture, I thought Hal was Barbara Bush.

  2. BillUSA says:

    Well Hal, I’m sure there are many white folks out there who don’t like anything coming from the minds of black people. Hopefully, they are few and far between. But some of us white people are smarter than that. We will go as far as supporting the advancement of race relations. But we stop at rape. Parker was acquitted, but he was there, and it matters not at all to me what his skin color is. In fact, I’d prefer that Parker be someone I could admire. So just because he’s black, it doesn’t give him a free ride through my value system. Polanski and Allen not only belong in jail, their names should never again be used in any positive light. I’m color-blind Hal, because it’s not only fair to my fellow human beings, it’s an intelligent way to live.

  3. fergdoug says:

    A haircut might keep me from mistaking Holbrook’s photo for my grandmother’s.

  4. Jay Theman says:

    White…people…don’t want to see what they aren’t willing to accept as factual material that reminds them of the FACT that this country is STILL unequal…largely due to the FACT that whites STILL experience substantial and unjust and unfair privilege…BASED on these times depicted in the film. It’s called cognitive dissonance and “typical” ones being comfortably numb to ugly, virulent realities that favor them. If these realities DID hurt them and theirs…they’d be the ones out in the streets in large numbers protesting…instead of attending Trump rallies. The OBVIOUS injustice that subjugates a people through utilizing age-old terrorist, debilitating and marginalizing tactics over another (racism)…isn’t, hasn’t and never WILL be enough for the ‘majority’ of American whites to do a thing to change what WILL SOON break this country in half (or at least few pieces). The change MUST come now! The change MUST come…NOW!

    • BillUSA says:

      White privilege is a myth. Whites built the world we see because they went out and built it – not because some other race had to be pushed aside or asked to make room so as to make it easier. Sure, black empires have existed and prospered, but eventually fell just like white empires have fallen. You fall, you get up, dust yourself off, and try again.

      I wish I could get away with the excuse that I’m being held back. I’d be told to stop feeling sorry for myself, get to work or get the hell out. Nobody handed me what I’ve attained. Nobody. Not once. I worked for it and yes, I was discriminated against along the way for too many reasons than I can remember.

      My parents came from large Depression-era families that HAD to find a way to survive. They were considered poor even though they had more than my great, great grandparents did when they emigrated here from Europe. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They did what they had to do to provide themselves and their families with a place to sleep, food to eat when jobs weren’t a day-to-day guarantee. They didn’t have welfare, coalitions for their ethnic advancement, or Hollywood on their side.

      We moved from the city to preserve the safety of us kids and we ended up being in a place where rich, privileged kids looked down upon us because we wore flannel and corduroy. I didn’t pout and say the system was rigged against me. I didn’t say there were films out there which did or did not tell my story effectively. All I did was persevere and despite some dumb moves on my part, I succeeded to the point of enjoying my 11th year of retirement and I’m nine years away from age 65.

      If had sat back and felt sorry for myself, expected someone to give me something for my lack of anything I wanted, or let someone tell me I didn’t deserve anything, I’d be doing that for the rest of my life. People have had it much, much harder than I did and they came through it much more successfully than I did. To not prosper in The Land of Opportunity can be attributed to bad luck as long as one tries to succeed. If one doesn’t try, then they are rigging the system against themselves.

      • spookym says:

        So slavery and segregation are the result of black people feeling sorry for themselves. Thanks for setting me straight!

  5. Michael V says:

    Nate Parker is an egotistical misogynistic ass. Who at BEST put out a lukewarm film. I think many people might have attended the film . Had they not got a whiff of his personality. Every time he opened his mouth some insanely dumb s*** would fall out of it. That 60 Minutes interview did nothing to make me even remotely want to go see anything this jerk made. And why is this film suppose to be the Black Hollywood Holy Grail? Did you not see Moonlight ,Loving or Southside with you. So many more Black Films and Film makers who deserve our attention! And by the way when your boy is convicted of rape and you literally get off on a technicality, you are not really innocent just real goshdang lucky. I have no f**** to give for you and your film.

    • Yukiko Kudo says:

      Uhhhh The case never went to trial. He WAS NOT CONVICTED. It comprimises your intergriywhen you make up stories to support your position. Your positon should be able to stand on it’s ow merit

  6. king says:

    Even if he is innocent ppl will always see him as a rapist its really messed up if he didn’t do it

    • Yukiko Kudo says:

      Uhhhh The case never went to trial. He WAS NOT CONVICTED. It comprimises your intergriywhen you make up stories to support your position. Your positon should be able to stand on it’s ow merit.

  7. James says:

    What the heck? We need to step up as a society. Rape culture is no longer okay. I don’t care if some old white man proclaims it’s okay.
    It’s hypocritical to say a film from a rapist will evolve our culture.

  8. 12 YEARS A SLAVE done that been there says:

    Anything with, by or involving Nate Parker, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski and/or OJ Simpson past, present or future – NO THANKS, NOT INTERESTED. Pretty simple. Other people feel free to slime along on your amoral bellies making excuses, living in denial and enabling and empowering the scum. The public has turned their collective backs on these people. However, there will always be a few contrarians who stand apart because the issue at hand did not effect them. And that’s all they care about, themselves. Everybody else be damned.

  9. ML says:

    Yes, I’m counting the directors and actors and their supporters. We should have a long memory and rethink our values and say no to them when they call – no matter who they are.
    Throughout this, I keep thinking of the model in America’s Top Model who was axed unceremoniously because she used to be an escort. Nobody wants to be an escort, it’s usually a last resort. But most rapists want to rape. If we’re using the same reasoning here, the model should have stayed on the show and perhaps even won.
    In addition, I’m surprised at the minimizing language such as ‘indiscretions’ and ‘incident’. Nate Parker admitted to drugging and raping a woman while she was unconscious, then inviting his friends to do the same, one (the co-author of the script) of whom did. He was then was allowed to harrass the victim by the school until she had to drop out. The victim had no recourse and eventualy broke and killed herself. Who wouldn’t have? Parker is using this to promote his film and I’m shocked Cheryl Boone Isaacs is supporting it. And then, Holbrook calling the rape an indiscretion and telling us to count? Why should we?How is this even up for discussion as okay?
    There are so many deserving and talented directors and actors out there, some suvivors of rape, we should support them – not PR hungry rapists.

  10. Shane Guyton says:

    This is a good movie! You get to see a different story of slavery and what the consequences of disobedience in slavery was and the futility of it. I was glad to see a depiction of Nat Turner other than the black terror out to kill every white person especially white women and children! At the same time over looking the fact that Nat Turner and the other rebels seen their own women and kids killed, beaten, and sold as cattle.

    • AllWiledUp says:

      Historians (black and white) have attacked the movie for historical inaccuracies. A good documentary about Nat Turner would be the way to go. Parker rewrote history to suit his and Celestin’s agenda. You have the right to your own opinion but not to your own facts in a film that purports to present Nat Turner’s real story.

  11. Lisa says:

    ‘It’s important for people to see and enjoy this movie’ Is that an order? So, rape survivors should go see this movie and just ignore the triggers that the film will set off? Because some white man is trying to perpetuate our rape culture by saying, ‘Boys, you can do whayever you want, rape, drug and murder women and still get your shitty film made and backed and promoted by us’. Now the New York times it jumping on this travesty. When will it stop? These guys are saying the same thing over and over. But they should be shamed. New thinking and reasoning must be heard. Empathy must be established. No more defending the monsters who profit off of victims.
    Perhaps 100 years from now everyone in our society will see just how barbaric all this is.
    For that to be achieved we need to reject these predators and their supporters.

  12. Shame on you Variety:
    1) Fox paid 17.5 million not 20.
    2) A movie isn’t a flop if it’s made almost 70% of its budget on its opening weekend. And…
    3) When it’s all said and done this movie will make Nate Parker and Fox A LOT of money.
    Report accurately!!!

    • AllWiledUp says:

      What was the advertising budget? Couldn’t turn on the TV in the past few weeks without seeing ads over and over.

    • James Heckel says:

      Mr. Parker’s actions cost a woman her life. Shame on Mr. Holbrook for equating that with an “indiscretion.”

  13. Good for Mr. Hal Holbrook. He has every right to speak his mind here. And yes, Roman Polanski DID win an Oscar …with white women sitting right there in the audience clapping for him. I watched the show and saw this with my eyes. I’m positive this comment will be deleted or “moderated” LOL. I am a woman myself and just wanted to add my opinion on this.

  14. Sexracist says:

    Hal Holbrook is 91 years old and senile. What do you expect?

    • cadavra says:

      And yet he still manages to go out on stage alone for two hours-plus and do “Mark Twain Tonight.” What’s your excuse?

  15. Mr. Tracey says:

    Parker was altogether the wrong guy for this project.

    He tainted it.

  16. MNG says:

    Will we also be able to see the reasoning behind the invented rape scene of Nat Turner’s wife, which, according to Parker’s revisionist history fable, seemingly ignites Turner’s God-ordained mission to kill every white person he can? Maybe the extended cuts will feature the scenes of the women and children Turner personally bludgeoned to death in their beds, or would that de-glorify the man in this superhero tale too much? Sort of like its creator, who in one breath can call for “riotous action” when a black person is killed by police (never mind if the victim is white, Asian, or Latino apparently) and manage to keep a straight face when proclaiming that he isn’t promoting racial violence and division. This from the same denial-dwelling egomaniac that also believes it’s legally acceptable to have non-consensual sex with an unconscious woman, and even invite a friend in to capitalize on the victim’s state too, but it may have been, “as a Christian man,” a “bad situation to be in.” Good thing he was a star athlete. If Parker, as his screenplay alludes, believes the fictitious rape of Turner’s wife would trigger a violent rampage, then what should we make of his consequence? You can toss Polanski, Allen, and Parker on the same boundless ship on personal transgressions alone. But, Hal, a rapist and a maliciously inaccurate storyteller is something to caution against whether personal or professional, especially in times like these.

    • Monya Downey says:

      If this is history, like all other characters in history, this is the actions of Nat Turner, not Nate Parker. I would say that slavery was made justifiable by using the Bible. Nat Turner found scripture to support his brutal killing in the Bible. In First Samuel 15:2-3, there is a scripture that tells I believe David, I may not be correct on which person it was, but to kill the Amakalites, all of them-do not spare anyone(women, men, children, and cattle) and do not take anything-because it was all tainted. The thing is look at the years of conditioning,how bad that was to de-humanize an entire race that was made up of men, women, and children. If a person thought we are never going to end this abuse. If we want to be free, we have to kill everything related to this abuse to stop it, because children in that time grew up to be slave owners. The same children that were raised in the care of a Black woman, played with her kids or treated her kid like a pet or a toy, sucked off of a Black woman’s breast-yes nursed from a Black woman may grow up and kill her. So, it does make sense. Also, he was acquitted of the charges, so no one knows if he really did this, but God. If he did, he will pay. I do not believe if he did this God will not judge him for this.That scene in the movie about Nat Turner’s wife to me shows that he has the same values as most white men to want to protect his wife, to show value to his wife, to honor his wife. White people back then killed entire towns of Black people based on an accusation of rape, not just rape a boy named Emmitt Till was killed from just looking at a white woman back then. So, white women were looked at as superior, valued. Why could Nat Turner not feel the same,want to self-preserve? We fight wars to self preserve. White men fight for gun rights to self-preserve-protect their families, their country, and their property.So, I guess you see it how you see. We all have perspectives. It was a good movie! It was not a flop!

      • mngodbey says:

        Whew. Human beings have done terrible things to each other throughout history, all the way up to present day, but one and all are not the same so let’s stay on topic. Let me just address a few points I was trying to make:
        1. Nat Turner’s actual revolt is not depicted accurately in the film, with Parker choosing to edit out the portions that might show Turner as anything less than a morally exquisite superhero. That’s Hollywood for you and I get it, but I still don’t like to see movies presented to the public under the guise of a history lesson while knowing that it’s far from it, especially when there are real-life implications at stake that could result from the deliberate misinformation. Turner, and every other slave, had every right to do whatever was necessary to free themselves from bondage, in my opinion. But Turner was less a revolutionary than a religious fanatic that believed God was ordering him to kill not just his master and his master’s family (and to presume that children will inevitably kill you is crazy talk), but all white people. Keep in mind that slaveholding households (which were counted as any household that held one or more slaves) in the South made up less than 6% of the population at the height of slavery in the South. Who knows what effects the brutality of slavery would have had on the human mind. I’m not condemning Turner’s actions, just wishing that Parker would have represented them more accurately. Unfortunately I think that has hurt the full power of the story and the attention it deserves more than anything else.
        2. My first point is basically what I was afraid of with regard to your talk about Turner avenging the rape of his wife. The rapes were invented by Parker and Celestin, presumably in the hopes that they would add more justification for Turner’s less savory actions. Because Parker created, wrote, edited, directed, and starred in the film, it’s impossible not to compare his personal actions with those of the characters he has created. So, if he can create a scenario in which rape warrants violent revenge, how does he reconcile his own actions and lack of consequence? Being acquitted isn’t the same thing as being found not guilty. Parker was a star athlete at a school (Penn State) with a history of covering up sex abuse, and when a second trial was requested, the prosecutor refused because the previous witnesses had “scattered.”
        3. I think Parker would have been better off making a film about a purely fictional character rather than trying to squeeze the darkest portions of slavery into a film that proclaims to be the true story of a real person. Many of these things did happen, but they didn’t all happen to Turner, at least not that we know of. We do know from his writings that he believed God wanted him to kill white people and that the sun turning a strange color one day convinced him that the time had come. I would love to see a film that tells the real story of Nat Turner and takes a deeper look at the institution of slavery, from the ground up, and its impact, but I’m also a history lover. To me, this was just a severely dramatized account of history with a lot of “what-ifs” and “maybes” to help a man push his own narrative and reach the pinnacle of his ego along the way.

    • Jana J. Monji says:

      That isn’t actually how I interpreted the film. The rape of his wife isn’t the immediate cause of the rebellion nor is the rape of the fellow slave’s wife. It is one of many factors. Further the morality of the rebellion is also called into question in the movie. https://ageofthegeek.org/2016/10/07/the-birth-of-a-nation-continues-legacy-of-controversy/

  17. Michael Anthony says:

    Perhaos audiences didn’t rebuff the film because of Parker. Maybe they just weren’t interested. 12 years a slave didn’t burn up the box office, nor have many serious films. Most moviegoers didn’t go and read the trial transcripts. If they had, perhaos the film would have has made zero at the box office?

    • jmengele says:

      michael, you are sooooooooooooooooooo right about everything you just said. re-read what you have written. so, so true. the operative question, though, is why “some” would prefer watching ME, MYSELF AND IRENE rather than watch this film. How much of GONE WITH THE WIND is really about slavery or is it mainly about what SOME would like to believe slavery was actually about? and where are your honored truths in the original BIRTH OF A NATION by DW Griffith? Why didn’t you care then?

  18. Michelle says:

    I’m still on the fence regarding Nate & his film, but hal is certainly correct in the double standard. I am dumb-struck at the amount of people who work with Woody Allen despite an open letter from his daughter describing in graphic detail how he raped her repeatedly. Doesn’t seem to bother Cate Blanchett and the other hoards of talent who ignore it.

    • cadavra says:

      Well, maybe that’s because the charges against Allen were thoroughly investigated and found to be bogus. But hey, never miss a chance to let your anti-Semitism flag fly, amirite?

    • Michael Anthony says:

      Yes, but Hal talks box office as a sign of rebuff. How much do Allen films make? Not much. And Parkers film is not acclaimed. It has middle of the road reviews.

  19. millerfilm says:

    Thank heavens! I was absolutely on pins and needles waiting for what this dude had to say. It’s not every man who can publicly come out and say it’s no big deal to take advantage of a drunk, passed out woman.

    • The Truth says:

      Nate Parker testified under oath that all the charges against him were false. A duly constituted, nearly all-white jury (one juror was an African American woman) in a conservative Pennsylvania town unanimously concurred, even though the alleged perpetrator was a young black man and the alleged victim was a young white woman. How often to you think a scenario like this works out that way?

      Hal Holbrook believes that Parker’s film should be seen and judged on its artistic merits, not on who the director is. Those who’ve viewed The Birth of a Nation know that one of it’s powerful messages condemns the abhorrent sexual violence women have been subjected to for centuries by men. By choosing to sarcastically dismiss Holbrook’s call for an open-minded approach to the work, you prejudicially seek to silence an important statement on racial and sexual politics in America that this film demands.

      • Jana J. Monji says:

        I agree. Nate Parker was acquitted. We might not agree with his morals, but he was found not guilty.

        It is hard to tell what is true and false about Nat Turner. There is a website about Nat Turner (http://www.natturnerproject.org/) and the movie doesn’t pretend to be a documentary.

      • Kei says:

        Lol, dude, the entire movie is based on falsehoods. He completely distorted the life of Nate Turner and his mother, and all other black women in his movie. If you want to know the true story, pick up a book. Black people who are aware of the history won’t support blatant lies just because it’s a black director.

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