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Nate Parker Talks Making (And Selling) ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ At The L.A. Film Festival

Nate Parker Talks Making (And Selling) 'The Birth Of A Nation' At The L.A. Film Festival

Nate Parker Talks Making (And Selling) ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ At The L.A. Film Festival

The Birth of a Nation – not the 1915 pro-Klan silent film, but a 2016 movie about the 1831 Nat Turner slave revolt that aims to flip the script on its predecessor – was sold to Fox Searchlight at Sundance in the biggest deal ever made there: in a $17.5 million deal, the movie has already more than made its $10 million budget back before even seeing release. And yet, director-star Nate Parker, accompanied by actresses Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union, told a packed auditorium last night at the Los Angeles Film Festival, that was not the biggest offer. “For the first time in my life, studios were pitching to me,” he recalls, and he had a “list of wants.” An awards push was not his priority; rather, he wanted a distributor that would be on board with making an edited version available to schools as part of a curriculum to teach younger kids about Nat Turner’s slave revolt – something he himself never heard of till he took African-American studies. “I didn’t have a hero outside of those who bounced balls and caught balls,” he said, but Turner assumed that role in short order, and for six years, Parker has worked to bring his story to the big screen. In order to ensure that today’s kids actually see the movie, his deal also includes an “Inspired by…” music CD featuring many major contemporary artists, whom he won’t name yet. Parker’s pro-tip for meeting with investors? “Never let anyone you’re taking money from pay for anything.” If you fly out to meet them and do lunch on your own dime, he points out, they are more likely to feel that they owe you something.

As an actor, Parker says he was tired of getting offered roles as “Gangbanger #1,” and so he set out to make a film “about freedom.” After doing his initial research, he realized he had to direct, saying of the process, “I knew no matter what I do, I wouldn’t have to go through the toils he did.” Finally shot in 27 10-hour days, the film is designed to look unlike any other movie about slavery you’ve ever seen. In fact, he never wanted audiences to feel like they were watching a “slave movie,” noting, “It’s a war movie, not an endurance movie.” Added King, who plays Nat’s wife Cherry, “We were enslaved, not born into slavery. There were people who fought that. [Audiences] need to know that. They need to feel it.”

In the first clip shown as part of Parker’s presentation, we got to see how Nat and Cherry first meet. As master Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) and Nat head into town on their wagon, they pass by several street vendors, hawking fresh sweetcorn, brooms…and black people. One vedor is trying to sell a slave who has only one arm, and is forced to deeply discount him, but he follows that auction up with Cherry, “A comely wench, not a day over 18.” Nat notices that the top bidder for her has his hand down his pants, making his future intentions quite clear; to save her from this fate, Nat persuades Sam to buy her as a gift for his wife. At the last minute, Sam offers a bid of $275, and once they have Cherry home, he asks Nat to “Have yo mama get her cleaned and fed, and start breaking her in.”

Read More: Forbes

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