Nate Parker Caused ‘Birth of a Nation’ To Flop And The Industry Won’t Forgive Black People For It
With his indignant refusal to apologize for his abusive behavior, Nate Parker brought about Birth of a Nation‘s poor performance and subsequently dealt a mighty blow against the progress blacks have made in Hollywood.
It’s official. Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation has flopped. When the movie was first announced and when it was a standout at Sundance, Parker’s status was on the rise. Based just on buzz alone, Parker was earmarked to join the group of black flagbearing directors in Hollywood like Lee Daniels and Ryan Coogler. Then those rape allegations (re)emerged, and that was all we talked about for months; not the film’s content or the cast or its artistic merit, just Parker’s sordid past.
With the fate of a major motion picture release at stake, he did his best to appear evolved and pained by the whole situation, but no team of PR specialists or industry associates could deter Parker from drawing the line at apologizing.
Nate Parker was supposed to create art for our enjoyment, but then he thumbed his nose at us when we asked that he be a decent human being too. And with his inability to show a basic level of remorse and empathy towards those he harmed, Nate Parker single-handedly tanked both his career and Birth of a Nation. But the fallout of his decisions cut much deeper than that.
Nate Parker wasn’t the only one with an investment in Nation‘s success. A failed film is a bad investment from a business standpoint, and any business will do its best to avoid similar bad investments in the future. So, maybe a studio will see less to gain and more to lose by backing a promising black director or producer. Maybe an industry tastemaker will think twice while considering a largely black cast for a major motion picture. The unknown maybe’s already threaten blacks in entertainment at every turn, and Parker just added to the unsavory list.
And outside of that speculation, a much more objective consequence of the film’s low box office returns faces the movie’s cast. As lauded as actresses like Gabrielle Union, Aunjanue Ellis, and Aja Naomi King are, this movie’s box office numbers factor into their career-long records. This handicaps how valuable they are perceived, and by proxy, has untold effects on what roles they might get or how much they might get paid.
This comes at a time where leaked data appears to confirm the actors of color get paid less on the whole, and the situation is far worse for actresses of color. And even if you don’t believe the leaked salary information, current pay discrepancy issues are rampant in the news. In her recently released memoir Around The Way Girl, Taraji P. Henson claimed that she was paid “sofa change” for her Academy Award-nominated role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Gabrielle Union is suing BET for allegedly trying to lower her pay and extend her contract. And even Kiara Muhammad, voice of TV’s Doc McStuffins, is suing Disney for excluding her from any merchandise revenue.
In the end, the film’s shortcomings at the box office are a victory. It shows solidarity. It shows that we’ve learned our dollars have power. It shows that we know supporting the art of a person whose behavior we disagree with is to support the artist, whether we like it or not. Folks can call it unfair that notorious offenders like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are granted passes due to artistic merit, but we already know that the playing field isn’t level.
That’s why Nate Parker’s behavior is so obscene. Like so many blacks across the nation, his actions do not occur in a vacuum. What he does reflects upon those that follow, and in him being so indignant toward calls for him to come to terms with his wrongdoing, Parker has willfully made it that much more difficult for us to revolutionize Hollywood in the future.
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight
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