Nate Parker, whose new film “American Skin” received a number of negative reviews at the Venice Film Festival, said Monday that he doesn’t care what critics say and that his goal is to make art that connects with audiences.
“I made this film for people to see it,” Parker told Variety in an exclusive interview at the Deauville Film Festival, where “American Skin” had its French premiere Monday and garnered an 11-minute standing ovation. He described the film, a drama about racial injustice in the U.S., as a “call for action.”
But the film does not have any domestic or international distribution in place yet – apart from Italy, where the film’s producer, Tarak Ben Ammar, will release it through his banner Eagle Pictures. “American Skin” was supposed to be screened for select buyers at Toronto, but Ben Ammar, who produced the movie with Mark Burg, said he decided to cancel the private screening to show the film first to festival audiences in Deauville and at the El Gouna festival in Egypt.
Ben Ammar told Variety that he has been approached by several distributors, including independent companies and streaming services. He did not disclose the companies’ names. He said the endorsement of Spike Lee, who was in Venice last week to help promote “American Skin,” was crucial to give the film some visibility, especially in the U.S.
While in Venice, Parker acknowledged that he had been “tone deaf” in his past remarks regarding the rape charge he faced as a college student. He was tried and acquitted in that case. His accuser later killed herself.
Although “American Skin” received mainly negative reviews from American critics in Venice, it won the Sconfini Section’s best film prize. Parker told reporters in Deauville on Monday that he doesn’t “care what people say about me, what they think about me.”
“My only job is reflect society. Sometimes that reflection isn’t an image people want to see, but I’m an artist so I try to stay away….I’m not here to make a headline,” said a tearful Parker when asked whether he thought the film would be better received by European critics that American ones.
Parker, whose debut feature “The Birth of a Nation” told the story of Nat Turner’s life and the slave rebellion he led in 1831, said he was compelled to make another film dealing with racism, partly because he grew up in Virginia.
“Virginia was one of the most destructive slave states….A lot of that trauma is passed down. We try to pretend that racism is something that can only be achieved by the Ku Klux Klan or Nazis, but that’s not true – racism is everywhere,” said Parker.
He said that we “have a long way to go with racism, and a long way with sexism and gender inequality and xenophobia, and we realize this everyday when we look up at the news.” Parker added: “I don’t have all the answers. I’m an imperfect man. I’m just trying to use my art as a platform to add a little to the conversation.”
Parker said that Spike Lee became “very emotional” watching “American Skin.” “He said, ‘Thirty years ago I made a film, ‘Do the Right Thing,’ and it was based on a real person [Michael Stewart] who was choked by the police, and it paid homage to that and put a spotlight on that in my film. Thirty years later I watch this film that’s asking us to deal [with] racism and police violence in America,'” Parker said.
The filmmaker then quoted Malcolm X. “He has a great quote that says if you plunge a knife nine inches in my back and takes it out four inches, it’s not progress. He said if you take it out all the way, that’s not progress. It’s only if you clean the wound, treat the wound, and then we talk about why you put the knife in my back in the first place that we can have healing,” said Parker.