What the Birth of the Nation Controversy Meant to Me As an 8th Grader

What the Birth of the Nation Controversy Meant to Me As an 8th Grader
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This article was written by Zoe N., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.

The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.

The media is everywhere, and as a teenager with a cell phone, it's pretty easy for me to keep in touch with what's happening in the world. It's fair to say that the media plays a large role in my life. When my social studies teacher introduced an argumentative essay project to us, there were so many topics to choose from. But being a daughter whose parents work in the media and entertainment industry, I wanted to write about a film that was getting increasing attention on a social and political platform. As many of the other girls that I interviewed in my essay also talk about, I feel terrified to live as a young woman in a society that allow men to treat women violently. When people let rapists go without any consequence, it almost makes what they did appear acceptable, which is terrifying for young women to see. I felt so strongly about this topic that I knew I wanted to take an in-depth look at what happened and how it was affecting young girls who hear about it in the media.

There comes a time in every person's life when they make a mistake. The significance of these mistakes varies between forgivable and absolutely unforgivable. Some mistakes we can't ever take back. There is a cause and effect process to everything that we do. Even further, if we make one detrimental mistake, it could have a severe effect on our life, and someone else's life. This is the case for Nate Parker, an actor who has who directed, wrote, and produced Birth of a Nation. Parker made both a prodigious movie and a terrible mistake. It is our job as the public to acknowledge these mistakes and use our power to make a decision on how we should respond to those mistakes. The public abuses their power by making snap judgments about someone without getting a full understanding of their situation. We need to acknowledge this movie and this mistake and realize how our opinion affects everyone around us before we make a mistake of our own.

On October 7th, 2016, the two hour long drama film/history movie Birth of a Nation was released. According to IMDB, Birth of a Nation is about a preacher named Nat Turner who is enslaved by a plantation owner named Samuel Turner. Turner then tells him to preach to the other slaves about not rebelling against their owners. When Nat sees all the terrible tragedies that happen to his fellow slaves and how they are all oppressed, he decides to revolt. He then rebels and searches for freedom which leads to a historic uproar creating violence and the constant search for justice. Variety said that the movie was “A biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror, it builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion and inevitable unease.” This connects to how we as the public need to recognize this movie as a work of art before we make an opinion about it.

After seeing such a powerful movie, the public often wonders about its creator. The mastermind behind Birth of a Nation is a man named Nate Parker. He has recently come into the public eye and with this new found fame comes the creator’s horrific past. According to Vulture, Nate Parker and his friend Jean Celestin were tried for rape in the late 1990s. While Parker was found not guilty, Celestin was found guilty but his conviction ended up getting overturned. It was a very long trial with many twists and turns. However, in 2012, the woman that they allegedly raped committed suicide.

There has been a lot of controversy over whether his movie should be seen and praised or completely ignored. Many people boycotted the movie due to this information. I interviewed girls in my grade for their opinion on the matter. Overall, many of the girls I asked said they would see it due to its educational value, however they still don't agree with the entire situation. I explained what happened with Nate Parker to the interviewees and asked them how this made them feel in relation to growing up and going to college.

One of my peers said, “I feel worried because it seems as though we just grow up and then anything can happen, whether it's good or bad, and that's kind of scary to think of things that you've never experienced happening to you.” She also felt as though she would be traumatized forever. Another interviewee said, “It makes me feel scared and sad.” When I asked another classmate about how being exposed to this could affect young girls, she said, “It could have a bad impact because they'll think that no matter what happens to them, the public will always believe the guy and their voice won't really be trusted.”

Finally, I asked my interviewees if they thought it was fair that his educational movie won't win an Oscar or even get seen because of one mistake he made 17 years ago. One of my peers said that “assuming that he did make the mistake, I think if he had apologized for his actions then I would want to see the movie, but because he didn't own up to it and apologize then I think people should still boycott.” Another peer said that “it was fair because it wasn't just one little mistake. Although he may have been drunk, it still was not okay because now this girl is dead. She was traumatized and now this man gets to go on and be praised for everything that he does while this girl was traumatized physically and mentally. To me that makes me feel that he and his friend were the ones that killed her.” The girls that were interviewed had a deep understanding of this topic, explained how they felt when they heard about the situation, and how it affects young girls when they hear about it in the media.

It is our job as the public to notice these mistakes and use our power to make a decision on how we should handle it. We need to notice this movie and this mistake and realize how our opinion affects everyone around us before we make a mistake of our own. Nate Parker is now perceived as a rapist and the movie (that brought the case back into the public) has gone to waste. While he might not be guilty, as the public we have created this new image for him, one that he can not erase and will have a lot of trouble liberating himself from it. As the public it is inevitable for us to not judge, however we need to fully look into the situation before we make our opinion. As I stated before it is ironic that Nate Parker made a movie about how the slaves were being victimized by their slave owner, then Nate Parker victimizes a girl and finally he gets victimized by the public. Personally if Parker had apologized to the women he allegedly raped, then I would have an easier time not letting those past action effect my feelings towards his current artistic greatness.

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