Saturday, 17 September 2016

Why I'll Still be Watching 'A Birth of a Nation' despite Nate Parker controversy

Earlier this month, I was having a conversation with some fellow bloggers when the topic of Woody Allen came up. Like many people, they don't watch his films I assume because they don't want to support and validate the work of an accused child abuser. Naturally I sat there guiltily nodding, smiling and thinking 'oops just saw Cafe Society' .

While I believe these allegations are a. true and b. seriously disturbing, I still choose to watch his films because I try to separate the artist from the art. And admittedly it's really hard to separate the two when most Woody Allen films explore the relationship dynamics between the older man and younger woman which naturally, brings the spotlight back onto his own relationships. I reckon most  people believe the allegations but apparently noone cares enough because he's still a respected film director. So in watching his films am I part of the problem Hollywood's cowardice problem? As we saw from the Cannes Film Festival this year, you can't act in an Allen film without critics asking you why and audiences giving you the side eye. And you also can't watch a Woody Allen film with a clear conscience.

Of course I grapple with guilt when every time I watch Annie Hall: ugh Susan there are other great rom-coms, why don't you just watch The Parent Trap - the answer to all life's dilemmas. But I also really believe that film plays a much bigger role in society that just entertainment. Films educates, influences, shapes culture, asks questions, challenges audiences ... I could go on and on (don't ask me how The Parent Trap shapes culture). A film is bigger than the person who directs it and the actors who star in it.

Similar questions have been asked about whether  we should watch upcoming Nat Turner biopic A Birth of a Nation after its director and star Nate Parker was accused of rape, his accuser later committing suicide. I read a really articulate and well argued article which takes the 'No' side of the argument. Like this author, I too was initially so excited to hear this film was doing well at Sundance and all the general Oscar buzz it'd been receiving. Films about slavery are inescapably, emotionally brutal and I know there are a lot of people who feel really uncomfortable with 'yet another slave film' where we see people who look like us being dehumanised. Everyone feels uncomfortable watching these films, arguably because debates concerning how we navigate race relations are as relevant today as they were when Nat Turner led the largest slave rebellion in the history of America. This discomfort and the ugly truths that are as true today as they were years ago are why it's still important to continue to make such films.

But Nate Parker's rape allegations did initially make me question whether I should support this film. By his own admission he didn't have the verbal consent of his accuser. So despite being acquitted, he doesn't even know if he's guilty of these crimes which makes me sick to my stomach. As the article I mentioned argues, not tolerating what Nate Parker did should also mean not supporting his work and in doing so, supporting rape victims.

Violence towards women is pervasive and entrenched in our society. 85,000 women are raped in the UK every year* and 1 in 3 women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.* These statistics are beyond shocking. But Nate Parker, along with some of the actors and producers of this film continue to reject questions about this during the film's press junkets. A character is raped in this movie meaning that I cannot ignore or shy away from the issue or, separate art from artist. So I'm choosing to watch this because if the film makers will try to silence and suppress the story of millions of rape victims, I think we can only counter this by watching the film and giving the film, continuing to talk about it and giving them a voice.

A Birth of a Nation isn't just going to be a history lesson but also will challenge and open up much needed discussions about attitudes towards people of colour, women and consent to potentially thousands of people.

*Ministry of Justice, Home Office for National Statistics, 2013; UN, 2008 cited in Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates
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