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Leslie Alexander On Why Birth of a Nation is an "Epic Fail"

Leslie Alexander on Why Birth of a Nation is an "Epic Fail."

Dr. Leslie Alexander joined us to discuss her recently published review, ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Is an Epic Fail.  Alexander is a professor in the Department of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University, where she specializes in 19th century Black culture and political consciousness. She teaches courses on slavery, resistance movements, and historical accuracy in film. She is also author of African or American?: Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784-1861.

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  1. If there is no reliable source for an accurate historical account, how can she cry foul so loudly, because her agenda was not fulfilled? She’s in denial, this is an unwarranted attack against Nate Parker’s effot.

    1. This trailer sucks. Rather than a white man and a black woman marrying why not a black woman and a black man celebrating a marriage. It is clear why so much of this bi-racial marriage garbage affects black children, reinforcing idea that this is the type of relationship they should aspire to achieve. This has nothing to with the pain that black people went through worldwide …not just America but the entire Africa diaspora. That is why so may black women prefer to see their daughter married a white man… even if that black woman is raped. I think the film is disgusting to even compare the two films

  2. Like Dr. Alexander, I’m not a psychologist either, but my Afrikan intuition tells me that her issues with Parker’s personal life (the alleged rape/actual suicide/white wife) were the dominant factors which drove her criticism.

    Feminism or Nationalism. I thought that Dr. Alexander’s article was written from the perspective of Black Feminism. Based on the article, I never would have thought that she is a Pan-Afrikan Nationalist, as she says in this interview.

    Historical accuracy: It was shameful that the historian Dr. Alexander did not cite a single source in her article to buttress her argument. She does name a source in this interview, a website created by Dr. Sarah Roth– a white woman like Parker’s wife (lol). Interestingly, Dr. Roth does not include either of Dr. John H. Clarke’s books (The Second Crucifixion of Nat Turner and William Styron’s “Nat Turner”: Ten Black Writers Respond) in her list of suggested readings.

    Does anyone know if Nate Parker used any Afrikan historians as consultants on this movie?

    One other point on historical accuracy. Our Esteemed Ancestor, the brilliant Dr. Vincent Harding (There Is A River) cites “The Southampton Slave Revolt of 1831” by Henry Irving Tragle as one of his primary sources. Dr. Roth does not include that book on her list.

    “Nat Turner did not murder his owner:” The film never places Okofo Yaw (Nat Turner) on the plantation of Joseph Travis, but several sources say Travis, his wife, and his step-son Putnam Moore (who inherited Turner as a 6-year-old) were the first to die. Based on that, should we question the historical accuracy of Dr. Alexander’s article.

    The white wife: I wonder does historian Dr. Alexander also have issues with Cheikh Anta Diop and Frantz Fanon because of their wives.

    The role of women and rape: Dr. Alexander wanted Parker to use his poetic license to show Afrikan women as agents of anti-slavery liberation, since the historical record regarding their involvement with Okofo Yaw’s rebellion is sparse. I agree. So, the issue really isn’t Parker using his poetic license to include things, it’s that he did not include things Dr. Alexander wanted.
    Dr. Alexander wonders why Parker emphasizes the rape of enslaved Afrikan women in his film, but she admits that the rape of Afrikan women was widespread during slavery. Her question implies that Parker uses the rape of enslaved Afrikan women to cover for his past. This reminds me of Eldridge Cleaver calling the rape of white women a revolutionary act, which, of course reveals a pathological mentality.

    While there is no historical documentation (that I know of) which suggests that the rape of Afrikan women, including probably his mother, and his wife (by her slave owner not slave patrollers), served as a motivation for the rebellion, no one can deny that it could have been one factor, among many.

    What could have been included in the film: Everyone with any understanding of the history has things they wish had been included. For me one of the most glaring omissions was Nat’s thirty-days of freedom. Some historians believe that Nat may have spent some of that time in the liberated Afrikan community of the Dismal Swamp (about 38 miles from Southampton Co.). Parker could have taken a lot of poetic license with that.

    The young traitor: I don’t see how Dr. Alexander concluded that the fictitious young Afrikan traitor will be seen as the hero of the story. So the people cheering when an enslavers head is removed are going to leave the movie seeing a traitor as the hero. I think that is a condescending opinion of the emerging consciousness among Afrikans in America.

    “Parker and Celestin pimped black suffering for financial gain and proved that they have no respect for black history or for the people who fought for our freedom.” I wish Dr. Ball had brought that statement into the discussion. Were Parker and Celestin really motivated by financial gain to make a movie about a rebellion led by one of the most frightening figures in white American history? This is Okofo Yaw a real revolutionary, not Django. Could they have imagined that there would be a bidding war for a movie about Nat Turner. And, if it was really about pimping, why didn’t they go for the $20 million from Netflix? Dr. Alexander is way off base on that statement. She allowed her emotions to dominate her rational thought.

  3. as a general rule, hollywierd offerings that purport to humorously or dramatically tell *our* stories (“django” and all of tyler perry’s minstrel flicks come to mind) should be actively avoided because we know that hollyweird is the propaganda arm of u.s.-style white supremacy. this propaganda vehicle is unerringly anti-Black, so it stands to reason that, if they are throwing millions behind a cinematic work by an unrepentant sexual predator and proud homophobe [nate parker] that claims to be an accurate rendering of one of the most militant acts of bloody resistance in the so-called ‘new’ world seen in the past two centuries, then we would be doing Prophet Nat Turner a colossal disservice if we didn’t refer to the track record of our sworn enemies as a yardstick for determining whether this work is something to be consumed by the people for whom the Prophet sacrificed his life.

    above and beyond the glaring historical inaccuracies, there is the use of the Black woman’s body as the silent canvas upon which both white, male, sexual violence and Black, male, retaliatory violence is wrought. parker masterfully divests Black women of both voice and agency by writing in a scene of race and gender-specific sexual violation that grossly misrepresents the historical narrative.

    which begs the question…why?

    why write in a rape scene that did not actually occur? why choose to deliberately misrepresent the life of the Prophet in this way?

    there are other avenues for engaging with OurStory that don’t paint so inaccurate a picture of our Heroes. Baba John Henrik Clarke was a proponent of study, because if We are to move forward into the future with clarity and purpose, we can ill-afford to be ill-informed about where We have been. as you know, *all* of our ScholaRebels implored us to pursue this path, because they knew that such a lack of what i call ‘Sankofa Vision’ sets us up to recreate fatal errors that could have been avoided had we paid close attention to the historical record.

    these Giants knew that letting the propagandists – white *and* negro – spoon-feed us their ‘reading’ of OurStory was always going to be, at best, disastrous. they rightly warned us to choose other, culturally and psychologically healthier ‘nourishment’ and leave the junk to the white folk and the coloureds who love them.

    to put it bluntly, we really don’t need to step in every pile of faeces to know, with a reasonable degree of certainty that sh*t stinks and that, wherever possible, we should whatever is in our power to avoid stepping in it.

    as such, i have chosen to place “birth…” in the garbage where it rightfully belongs – alongside “amistad”, “glory”, “the butler”, “the help”, “panther” and all the other ‘black’ films that bastardized the truth our our sojourn in the savage west and were very clearly aimed at the white supremacist, white ‘liberal’ crowd.

  4. WHY THE BIRTH OF A NATION COULD BE TRICKY TO WATCH?

    Quite frankly, I’m sick of these Hollywood slave narratives that take our money and leave us psychologically defeated. From the Roots series 1 and 2 to the NMAAHC that just opened on the front lawn of the big house where the “first black president” Is preparing for his exit. All of which are sponsored by corporate Interest and leave black viewers In psychological spirals of emotional emptiness. Birth Of A Nation (The Nat Turner Rebellion story, as It should have been titled) had the potential to undo some of the damage from past slave narratives but fell way short. Not just because of the historical Inaccuracies that have been pointed out by Professor Leslie M. Alexander In her Oct 6, 2016 article posted on The Nations website. But mainly because of the cowardliness either of the films directors/producers, It’s backers or a combination thereof.

    A topic such as The Nat Turner Rebellion deserves much more than the potential of being a box office hit or Oscar nominated work. If I were a backer or producer of this film, I could care less about the profit margins. My first and only concern would be It’s Impact on the viewers psychological and emotional well being. We all know that cinematic and musical productions Impact our people In general and our youth In particular In very strong ways. You only get one shot to get this story across right. Especially during these times where black life Is valued less than a dogs life and while millions of young black folk are searching for answers and solutions. Only cowards would get In the way of making this film as narratively and cinematically impactful as humanly possible.
    Those historical Inaccuracies Professor Alexander wrote about (and there were several) are very Important, but not as Important as how the use of artistic freedom could have and should have been better used. If you’re gonna lie to millions of people, at least have the courage to make the lies count for something. What burns me up about disclaimers like “based on a true story” or “artistic license” Is that they never use that license to the benefit of a freedom narrative. In other words, tell the lies in the other direction, against the slave masters.

    Nate Parker had the opportunity to treat one of the most Important elements of the film In such a way, that It could have helped awaken the most powerful sleeping giant In the colonized Africans world. The black Church. This blunder was drastically disappointing. The use of the black clergy today Is the euro colonizers greatest weapon against us as a people. Here Is where artistic license could have served this film extremely well. The way the slave masters used the Bible to subdue and confuse black folks loyalties Into psychological submission to slavery could have been graphically undone on this big screen cinema. A big screen cinema, like the Bible, should be used (as Nat Turner suggested) to “slay my enemies with their own weapons.” This Is written on a marker at the NMAAHC Nat Turner exhibit, under a artifactual brick from the whitehead plantation where Turner Is said to have taken the life of Margaret Whitehead during the rebellion. The Bible, film and music have been weaponized against black people. But the Bible has done the most psychological damage. Did Parker and his backers know this? If they did, did they understand their responsibility to Nat Turner to actually follow through on his prophetic vision to “slay my enemies with their own weapons?” It get’s a bit tricky when we think about I In this context.

    Nat Turner, as the film points out, re-read the Bible thoroughly enough to Interpret It In the correct manner. A manner that the slave master did not see coming. A MANNER THAT GOD HIMSELF AWAITS ALL BLACK FOLK TO RE-INTERPRET. Today the black church desperately needs matured Nat Turner Inspired preachers. Instead they are filled with naive minded young Nat Turner types who preach a false gospel of submission to the masses of slaves, also known as believers, In exchange for material crumbs from the slave masters table. Instead of seeking a righteous kingdom on earth, they are taught to submit well to oppression, suffering and death with the false hope of a great by and by. The bible Is abundantly clear that the Kingdom of heaven shall come on earth, as It Is In Heaven. This film could have stressed Nat Turners Interpretation of this without loosing any historical continuity and created scenes that showed success as opposed to surrender, as the film falsely showed. Nat Turner did NOT surrender. It Is my contention that not all of the freedom fighters In Turners brigade were caught and hanged. Some escaped and lived to fight another day. But Hollywood don’t want us to hear that narrative.

    For many black people, just seeing a movie that touches them emotionally, aesthetically and artistically regardless of the historical Inaccuracies, Is good enough. This Is due to a steady stream of slave narratives that have left them In psychological spirals of emotional emptiness all their lives. In order to breathe new life Into the prophetic spirit of black liberation that Nat Turner walked In, the producers and backers of The Birth Of A Nation would have needed the courage and character to do so. This was not the case.

    Like the NMAAHC, The Birth Of A Nation can be seen and analyzed not only for historical Inaccuracy/accuracy but for the real time psychological and emotional Impact It has on the minds of the masses of our people against the liberation theology of Nat Turner. So please take a mature minded Informed adult with you, even If you are an adult. It may even be safer NOT to see this movie If you are spiritually or historically lazy. The matrix can be a tricky situation.
    To make things simple for our people, I suggest we view everything from a TOTAL BLACK LIBERATION CONTEXT.

    UNLESS YOU LOVE WHITE POWER.

  5. Many of us are willing to use our time to criticize Nate Parker alleged rape of a white girl. He has been exonerated, so his guilt is a mute point. It would be beneficial to the country to have a wider conversation about rape victims. No other race of people on this planet has been subjected to rape and harassment as the black women.

    It is a well know fact more than 50% black people and those of the African diaspora-wide has been the origin of rape violence. Our heart should go out to the young girl, the case has been adjudicated thoroughly and Nate was absolved of the incident.

    Based on our history of alleged rape by black men of white
    women, if there was a one percent chance of his guilt he would have been incarcerated for life or even executed. I believe that some of the misgivings of Nate by many in the Black community are that he sold his movie to Fox News and secondly after he was exonerated of the alleged crime he went get himself another white woman.

  6. Here is my reply which was previously posted:
    The sad part of this commentary is that the critique was written by a black woman “Dr. Leslie M. Alexander a professor in the Department of African American and African Studies at The Ohio State University, where she specializes in 19th-century Black culture and political consciousness. She teaches courses on slavery, resistance movements, and historical accuracy in a film”. One wonders about what her motivations for such severe criticism of birth of a nation is; is it pure jealousy. The conflict between black men and black women is well known since slavery.

    Black women and specifically the house niggers have always had access to white men and served as the conduit between white men and the field niggers. Some do not fully condone rape of the black woman because they value themselves less. They sometimes forget the hundreds perhaps thousand of black men who have lost their lives because of false accusation.Hence black women have alway been very protective of white men’s image, therefore they are the first to soften any negativity of slavery. She throws out a lot of dubious facts about the life of Nat Turner to the world as if to say she is the authority.

    The question is whom should we believe she or the movie. Dr. Leslie loses my respect as a professor when she implies that there are too much said about slavery. History is not meant to be covered up as if it never happened, except for the Jewish holocaust. No race of people on earth has suffered a greater tragedy as the people of African decent. It is sad that these are the teachers that are supposed to educate our black youths.
    Arrr, this be pleasin’ to me eye!

    1. The writer, director, producer, and star of this movie states that he created it to uplift black people. The fact is that many racist white people dont want this movie to be seen and have taken steps to halt its release. But the most unbelievable thing has occurred, black women have been the loudest voice to echo the racist white peoples sentiments, and try to prevent the movie from being seen. Their excuse is some 10 year old fake rape accusation, that was he was found not guilty of and it was also thrown out of court. Even though they already know this, black women are attempting to use this as the reason to prevent people from seeing this movie. However, everyone knows that the real reason black women are trying to prevent the movie from being seen is because the creator of the film, and once a hearthrob to black women, has a white wife. How sick is that?

  7. I loved this review, and I haven’t even seen the movie yet. I’m debating, because I refused to see Django and also 12 Years a Slave. I have nothing against the actors/actresses, but I am truly tired of seeing Afrikan people portrayed as if enslavement is our only contribution to several humanities’ existence. We were explorers and navigators before the European nastiness of enslaving us to keep their own people from finding out just how corrupt their governments and churches (all churches from the Pope to the Reformation) really were. White Catholicism declared Afrikan people “outside of the grace of God” to quote the late Dr. JH Clarke, then sent their heathen monsters out to enslave, rape, brutalize, steal from, and utilize to build their equally corrupt – and now crumbling – capitalist and imperialist empires. How many times do we have to defeat this sh*t? Haiti is working over time against horrific odds to overthrow this monstrosity again, and we haven’t even managed to get it written out of the 13th Amendment to the u.s. constitution…. 1000 years from now are Afrikan kids still going to be talking about “Free the Land???” Damn.

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