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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Birth Of Which Nation?

I have a clear recollection of the heat author William Styron took for "Confessions Of Nat Turner". Even now, many years since the book was published and enjoyed its heyday, and Pulitzer Prize for historical fiction aside, some people continue to call the notoriety Styron gained via telling Turner's story a blatant example of cultural appropriation. Reading "Confessions Of Nat Turner" in college was a critical piece in my early development as a thinking person. And the uproar surrounding the book confused me in 1967 and still does today. I remain grateful Styron exposed me to this piece of history when I was young; it's one of those little told episodes that might otherwise have easily escaped me in my white world. Cultural appropriation or not, I'm planning to re-read the book, inspired by my recent viewing of "Birth Of A Nation", the directorial debut of Nate Parker.

Nat Turner's story - through the lens of Nate Parker or William Styron - is a deeply disturbing one. I suspect the insane cruelty inflicted on slaves as depicted in Parker's film will remain with me longer than the word pictures Styron drew. On the other side, Styron's prose as he describes Turner's ill-fated and bloody march across Virginia's Southampton County in 1831 had a narrative momentum I felt was missing in the concluding section of Parker's film. Still, directing yourself is tricky. For my money, Parker pulled that off quite well.

Because of its revered place in film history, it's unlikely the 1915 "Birth Of A Nation"  - basically an advertisement for the Ku Klux Klan - will ever lose all its cache. But effective today, my one-man campaign is to convince other film buffs, history students, and human rights advocates to begin calling that earlier racist rant " The Clansmen" - the source material for that abhorrent piece of movie propaganda. From now on, Nate Parker's "Birth Of A Nation" is the film that deserves that title.

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