August 21st, 1831, in Virginia, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion, hoping to inspire a slave uprising in the south. Several dozen whites were killed before the revolt was defeated. Turner was later capture, tried and hanged.
Soon after Turner’s execution, a local lawyer, Thomas Ruffin Gray, took it upon himself to publish “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” derived partly from research done while Turner was in hiding and from prison conversations with Turner before trial.
185 years later, many of us are who had been waiting for years, for a definitive film based on Nat Turner’s historic revolt (and not necessarily a Nat Turner biopic) to be produced, are excited for the eventual release of Nate Parker’s film, “The Birth of a Nation,” which collected 2 top awards at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, where it made its world premiere, drawing much critical acclaim and overall strong reactions from audiences. The film was picked up by Fox Searchlight (after a reported bidding war) for a whopping $17.5 million, although no release date has been set yet; the fall is very likely.
Before Parker’s film, maybe the most notable film on Nat Turner that currently exists is the hour-long documentary, “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property,” directed by Charles Burnett, and released in 2003, which toured the film festival circuit, and eventually aired on PBS about a year later.
Prior to that release, you will also recall William Styron’s 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning, though deeply problematic novel, “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” which Norman Jewison almost directed an adaptation of, in the late 1960’s, starring James Earl Jones as Nat Turner. Styron, to put it simply, imagined Turner as a fictional character, and as you’d expect, the project was met with what Jewison called an “incredibly angry exchange of ideas” with black revolutionaries at the time, who objected to the idea of a white director directing the film, as well as distortions of historical facts in Styron’s book.
Needless to say, the film never happened, and thank goodness for that!
But while we wait for Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” below, if you’ve never seen it, watch Charles Burnett’s documentary, “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property,” in full to get you prepped for Parker’s film later this year.