×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Birth of a Nation’ Debuts to Standing Ovation at Toronto Despite Controversy

The Birth of a Nation” received a standing ovation at its Friday night premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, despite ongoing controversy about the college rape trial of Nate Parker.

Initially viewed as an Oscar frontrunner after a record-breaking deal at the Sundance Film Festival, the film has seen its awards prospects threatened as the public has learned about accusations that Parker sexually assaulted an 18-year-old Penn State student while they were attending college together. He was later acquitted of the charges.

Jean Celestin, Parker’s roommate at the time and the co-writer of “The Birth of a Nation,” was found guilty. His conviction was later overturned on appeal, and the accuser committed suicide in 2012.

Fox Searchlight, which acquired worldwide rights to the film for $17.5 million last spring, has sought to limit Parker’s exposure to the press. A party for the film at the Shangri-La Hotel shortly before the screening was closed to the media and a red carpet was mostly limited to photographers. Parker didn’t do interviews, but flashed a peace sign before entering the theater. Parker wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the drama about slave rebellion leader Nat Turner.

After the credits rolled, Parker mounted the stage flanked by the rest of the film’s cast. He clasped his hands together as the crowd applauded and exhaled. He began his remarks by thanking Fox Searchlight and the film’s financiers.

“I appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine,” he said.

A showing that may have been a source of anxiety for the studio went off without incident. There was no heckling during the screening and no signs of protests outside the Winter Garden Theatre, where the film showed. During a question and answer period, moderator and festival artistic director Cameron Bailey kept the focus on the production and Turner’s legacy.

Parker said that despite growing up 42 miles east of where Turner’s rebellion unfolded in Virginia, there were no monuments to the man who inspired his fellow slaves to take up arms in 1831 against their masters. After becoming an actor and learning about Turner, making a film about his life became a passion project for Parker.

“This is someone who should be celebrated along the lines of Patrick Henrys, of Jeffersons, of our founding fathers,” said Parker. “I felt like this was a story that I felt, historically speaking, could really promote the type of healing we need and the conversation around race.”

Although slave owners violently struck down Turner’s rebellion and attempted to wipe out his legacy, Parker said his role in history is secure and his life story continued to be told, passed down as part of a vibrant oral tradition.

“He solidified his legacy the moment that he raised the ax,” he said.

Other cast members, such as Roger Guenveur Smith, drew parallels between Turner’s story and modern political protests against racially charged police brutality. He noted that Turner was only one instance of rebellion in the history of the United States.

“Nat Turner was not an anomaly and was part of a tradition of resistance which began in the Western Hemisphere in the year 1492,” said Guenveur Smith. “What happened in Southampton County in 1831 was part of an ongoing movement of liberation which continues to this day. Nat Turner and his comrades recognized in 1831, a long time ago, that indeed, black lives do matter.”

More Film

  • Joker

    Korea Box Office: 'Joker' Remains on Top, 'Gemini Man' Lands in Fourth

    Warner Bros.’ “Joker” remained on top of the South Korean box office in its second weekend. The American psychological thriller earned $5.71 million from 768,000 admissions between Friday and Sunday, for a total of $28.3 million from 3.85 million admissions after two weekends. It accounted for 46% of total weekend box office in the country. [...]

  • dolittle-DRD_Tsr1Sht_1011_RGB_4_rgb-1

    Robert Downey Jr. Embarks on Perilous Journey in First 'Dolittle' Trailer (Watch)

    Robert Downey Jr. is setting sail with some furry friends in the first trailer for “Dolittle,” Universal Pictures’ reimagining of the classic story about a man who could speak to animals. “We have no choice but to embark on this perilous journey,” he says. Set to a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon Ho's 'Parasite' Posts Powerful Opening in North America

    Bong Joon-Ho’s dark comedy “Parasite,” which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, has launched with a spectacular $376,264 at three U.S. theaters.  Neon opened “Parasite” at The Landmark and Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles and at the IFC Center in New York, where it broke the opening record set by 2014’s “Boyhood.” Its per-screen average of [...]

  • Joker Movie

    'Joker' Dominates International Box Office With $124 Million

    “Joker” is showing impressive traction internationally with a second weekend of $123.7 million on 24,149 screens in 79 markets — a holdover decline of just 29%. Joaquin Phoenix’s psychological thriller has totaled $351.2 million outside North America after only 12 days in release. And with $192 million in domestic grosses, “Joker” has now topped $543 [...]

  • Joker

    'Joker' Remains Box Office Ruler With $55 Million

    Joaquin Phoenix is king of the North American box office once again as “Joker” scores an easy victory in its second weekend with $55 million at 4,374 sites. “Joker” dominated a trio of new entries with animated comedy “The Addams Family” leading the rest of pack with $30.3 million at 4,007 venues, topping forecasts. Will [...]

  • French director Bertrand Tavernier attends the

    Bertrand Tavernier on Coppola, Scorsese, Cayatte, Cinema’s Bright Future

    Veteran French director Bertrand Tavernier (“Round Midnight”) – president and director of the Institut Lumière and Lumière Festival, which he co-manages with Cannes’ Thierry Frémaux – has played a pivotal role in restoring classic French films and defending the importance of French directors, such as Claude Autant Lara, Henri Decoin and André Cayatte, who were [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content