Nine months after “The Birth of A Nation” had its triumphant Sundance debut, and two months after a rape scandal surrounding writer-director Nate Parker threatened to engulf it, the controversial film has moved into its wide release. And to recognize the occasion, Fvck Rape Culture staged a silent sit-in protest in the courtyard outside Arclight Hollywood, just as the film began its first showings at 7pm Thursday.
People began gathering a few minutes before 7, and by 7:15 the attendees — at least three dozen, along with three dogs — were seated and the candles (largely electric, with the exception of about a half-dozen pillar candles) arranged.
They sat in silence for the next 45 minutes, uninterrupted by passersby heading to the theater or the complex’s 24 Hour Fitness. Security guards, as well as a few uniformed cops, occasionally patrolled the area, but the event remained peaceful.
(As it happened, they shared the courtyard with patrons waiting in line for a special screening of a documentary, “The Power of Silence.”)
After the silence broke, IndieWire spoke with Remy Holwick, one of the event’s organizers, who said the event’s impetus began about a month ago when an unnamed “woman creative at a very high level in Hollywood” reached out to Fvck Rape Culture, saying she felt powerless over the Nate Parker situation. While the conversation started then, Holwick said the protest itself was planned quickly over the last two days.
“We recognize that it’s really important for this film to come out and that people of color in Hollywood have been at a major disadvantage and any attempt to correct that should be applauded,” Holwick said. “But we also recognize that this is a difficult conversation, because as a survivor of rape and sexual assault I have trouble supporting wholeheartedly any endeavor made by someone who so flippantly opposed discussion about his prior accusations… While this film is important, we need to be able to have both conversations and not turn this into an either/or.”
“It was a chance for all of us to remind people that survivors of sexual assault don’t always have a voice,” organizer Stephanie Filo said. “With the release of this movie coming out, it was a good opportunity to be intersectional and have two important discussions — the advancement of people of color, and also have a dialogue around sexual assault.”
Fvck Rape Culture, Holwick said, was originally founded to raise funds for the appeal of Judge Aaron Persky, who enraged the nation after reducing the sentence of convicted rapist Brock Turner.
The protest was officially led by Elyse Cizek, who rose to speak briefly at 8pm, the official end of the event (though many remained seated and silent, and new protesters even joined in).
“We were really standing up by sitting down,” Cizek later told IndieWire. “It’s really gorgeous. It’s a wonderful thing.”