Cheers to Actor Hal Holbrook for His Defense of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation

October 17, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper |


The film The Birth of a Nation, which recently opened in theaters, is under a huge attack in the form of a whipped-up controversy over 17-year-old allegations of sexual assault against the film’s writer, director, and star, Nate Parker. This film powerfully dramatizes the heroic slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, and it is a must-see. But the attacks on Parker and his film—in the New York Times and other major media, and including prominent Black and feminist voices—have negatively impacted the film’s reach and impact. (See “The Birth of a Nation Can Contribute to Liberation—Re-Prosecuting Nate Parker Does Not” by Sunsara Taylor.)

In the face of these attacks on this important film, actor Hal Holbrook wrote an insightful letter that was published in the op-ed pages of the October 15 New York Times:

I am finding it hard to accept the apparent rebuff at the box office of “The Birth of a Nation,” particularly after seeing the film last weekend. 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. No one should miss it—no one who respects our country and its long struggle to define itself.

I am sorry about the conflict with Nate Parker’s past, but let’s try for some honesty here. “Rosemary’s Baby,” as I recall, had a similar tag on its director. It did well. 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.

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? The curse is there. Go look at it. Do we have the courage to do that? It’s a fine work.

A number of others have spoken out in defense of the film. Before the film opened nationally, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said, when asked about the “controversy” around the accusations against Parker: “That’s one issue. That’s his personal issue and then there’s the issue of the movie. And with 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 important.” Roland Martin, journalist and TV commentator, said, “Enough of somebody else describing our history! Here is an opportunity for us to see a Black freedom fighter on the big screen, because trust me, rarely will Hollywood show you Black freedom fighters the way they have in this movie.”

There needs to be many others who are taking a right stand and speaking out against the attempts to undermine The Birth of a Nation. The destructive attacks on this film have to be rebuffed. The film needs to be seen by many people, of all nationalities and walks of life, and discussed and debated on its own merits.



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