Thanks to roles in The Secret Life of Bees, Arbitrage, Red Tails and Beyond The Lights, Nate Parker has established himself as one of the brightest up-and-coming Black actors in film. However, during his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Parker acknowledged the persistent pessimism eating away at him despite steady production as an actor. For the recognition he’s earned, he felt the roles offered to him were lacking and demeaning.
“So few of them had integrity,” he said. “As a Black man, you leave auditions not hoping you get the job but wondering how you explain it to your family if you do.”
Faced with this career impasse, he turned to a story that had long fascinated and inspired him: Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. An educated enslaved African and preacher from Virginia with remarkable presence, Turner led America’s bloodiest slave revolt. The revolt’s aftermath led to widespread anti-literacy laws about educating enslaved people.
Despite growing up in Virginia, Parker said he never heard about Turner.
“Imagine my dismay,” he said, “in learning that one of the greatest men to walk the soil in this country was a man who grew up and lived and breathed and fought less than 100 miles from where I grew up.”
Determined to make this film, Parker refused to take any other roles and was content to never make another film.
“I was willing to stick to that — and if it was my lot to never act again, so be it,” he said.
Parker’s success in getting this film made helps revive hope that Black actors will take more control of their careers, as questions about mainstream recognition of Black artistry in film runs at an all-time high after last week’s omissions of Oscar-nomination Black talent.
Birth of a Nation is attracting attention as the most anticipated premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It will debut as many Black actors boycott the Academy Awards and Black people protest unfair treatment from police and politicians. The nation’s atmosphere is ripe with rebellion, and this irony is not lost on Parker.
“Resistance lives in the air in this current moment,” he said. “Anyone who sees this film should leave the theater and feel compelled to be a change factor with respect to relations that are taking place in this country.”