Leslie M. Alexander:
"A firestorm of controversy has swirled around Nate Parker and his film The Birth of a Nation in the two months since several media outlets revealed that Parker and his co-author, Jean McGianni Celestin, stood trial for raping a young white woman in 1999........."
"Across the country, social media lit up as people debated Parker’s guilt, questioned whether to boycott the film, and expressed outrage about violence against women. As the storm raged, however, one critical issue went ignored. No one questioned the fundamental value or truth of the film."
"Contrary to his promises of “historical fidelity,” Parker created a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America. Nearly everything in the movie–ranging from Turner’s relationship with his family, to his life as a slave, and even the story telling of the rebellion itself–is mostly fabrication. Certainly the film contains sprinklings of historical fact, but the bulk of Parker’s story about the rebellion is fictitious: Nat Turner did not murder his owner, nor did he kill a slave patroller. Turner’s rebellion was not betrayed by a young boy, or by anyone else involved in the revolt. To the contrary, the rebels fought until the bitter end. The shootout depicted in Jerusalem, Virginia, never happened, because the rebels were stopped by the militia before they ever reached Jerusalem. The list of inaccuracies, distortions, and fabrications goes on and on."
"A crucial turning point in the movie occurs when Turner’s wife, Cherry, is brutally gang raped by a group of slave patrollers–an attack the film portrays as the spark that ultimately drove Turner to launch his rebellion. But there is not one shred of historical evidence to suggest that Cherry was ever raped by slave patrollers, nor is there any evidence to indicate that an attack on his wife inspired Turner to rebel. By all accounts, Turner took up arms against slavery because he believed slavery was morally wrong and violated the law of God........"
"I will let others speculate on the reasons why Parker and Celestin decided to fabricate a story line about rape–specifically gang rape–to spin a false tale about the motivation for Nat Turner’s rebellion. I will simply say that their story is not only untrue but it also perpetuates destructive lies about black women. Enslaved women fought for their dignity and freedom, and they exercised agency over their lives, in spite of unimaginable horrors"
"Despite Parker’s bluster about Nat Turner’s heroism and his claims to historical accuracy, he failed to provide a truthful rendering of Nat Turner’s life, his rebellion, or the experience of black people during slavery.
As a result, Parker and Jean Celestin pimped black suffering for financial gain and proved that they have no respect for black history.
Dr. Leslie M. Alexander is a professor in the Dept of African American Studies at Ohio State Univ.