Birth of a Nation important to today’s culture

Karlyle Stephens
Mesa Legend

Karlyle StephensJames Baldwin, who was a youth minister in Harlem churches before becoming one of the most prolific African American writers in the 60s and still today, wrote, “the power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions.” The most major force in helping the construct of that world and racial prejudices here in America has always been movies.  And one, in particular, the genesis perhaps, being D.W. Griffin’s 1915 “Birth of a Nation.” Sure, I think it’s safe to say we know now that the post-racial myth is just that, a myth.

Birth of a Nation
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

And yes, the 2008 election of a half-Kenyan man eight years ago was the cause, but that doesn’t mean we should take back our celebrations for how far it is we’ve come. I was one of those “stupid” voters who voted for Obama simply because he’s Black/African. And as his presidency comes to a close, I still think that vote was worth it. Because when D W Griffin was welcomed to the White House to showcase his little movie to President Woodrow Wilson, who impressed by the racist film infamously said “it’s like writing history with lightning,” I bet none of them then could foresee how much “their” country would change a full century later.

Not only are cornrow haired artists from Compton now welcome to that same White House to meet the first black president who favors their work, but that name “Birth of a Nation” would also get a new look and definition in that 100 years.  Actor/film director Nate Parker wrote and stars in the new 2016 “Birth of a Nation,” released in theaters everywhere early this month.  The movie, based on the life of slave and preacher Nate Turner has not yet reached the success it had been projected to earlier this year when it premiered at Sundance and was purchased for the biggest amount in the festival’s history. It’s hard to tell if the cause for its box office failure has been the scandals from Parker’s past that suddenly reemerged or the content of the film or both? The movie may not have lived up to my personal expectations and I do share some of the concerns expressed by women who are protesting the film; especially black women. But nonetheless, I think Parker’s film is important to the culture and I plan on seeing it again.

The film carries some very important messages about religion, African spirituality, and of course racism, but what’s more important is what it shows about the value of organizing and revolution. Nat Turner’s is one of the too many stories apart of the nation’s history that gets suppressed because of the spirit of radicalism it holds.  Those who’ll still refuse to see Parker as Nat Turner should at the very least make themselves familiar with the 1831 slave revolt in which Turner led.  But I still would like to see support for the 2016 “Birth of a Nation” because of the fact it is another image and definition that gets redefined.

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These are archived stories from Mesa Legend editions before Fall 2018. See article for corresponding author.

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