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WATCH on BN TV: BellaNaija interviews ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Star Nate Parker on Visiting Nigeria, Eating Jollof, Nat Turner’s Ghanaian Roots, the Women in His Movie & More!

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“Good morning Nate, how you dey?”

That’s how our interview yesterday started off with Nate Parker, director, actor and screenwriter of The Birth of a Nation movie. In London for the European premiere at the 60th BFI London Film Festival, filmmaker Nate Parker sat down with BellaNaija assistant editor Ink Eze for a 12-minute chat. The focus of the interview was his new movie.

BellaNaija Ink Eze and Nate Parker of the Birth of a Nation

Nate Parker & Ink Eze of BellaNaija

In the movie, he plays a slave preacher Nat Turner, who was supposed to use the Word to suppress and force acquiescence from slaves, but eventually became a revolutionary anti-slavery leader.

We talked about his trips to Nigeria (he has been to our country twice so far!), if he had Jollof Rice, the slave Nat Turner’s Ghanaian roots, his movie’s upcoming showing at Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) in November, how he developed the female characters in the movie and we also asked a question from a BellaNaijarian too –

Sisi posed this in our previous post about the trip,

“did he feel a personal conviction to present an alternative mainstream narrative of slavery and if there was any opposition in the industry at the thought of such?”

Watch and Read Excerpts Below!

BellaNaija: How you dey? You know what that means because you’ve been to Nigeria a couple of times. You’ve also referred to Africa as ‘Home’, so how was it like coming home?

Nate Parker: It’s an experience I think every person that has been spread across the diaspora should get to experience. There has been a desperation to separate us from the continent. There’s no stopping the feeling you get when you arrive on African soil and you get that feeling of belonging. It feels good to travel home and I can’t wait to go again.

Nate Parker at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in March 2011

Nate Parker at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in March 2011

He later added –

The people of Africa, the people of Nigeria, the people of Ghana, the two places I’ve been, welcome Americans in ways I could never have imagined. In ways that I was taught wouldn’t happen.

BN: You went with your mum, with your uncle, did you get to get to experience Nigeria, did you have Jollof Rice?

NP: I had more African food than I could ever had imagined. Everywhere I went people fed me and it was wonderful… My mother and my uncle they raised me in different ways, so it was really a treat to be able to experience it with those that meant the most to me.

BN: Talking about Nigeria, the Nigerian film industry Nollywood is very large and accomplished, have you watched a Nollywood movie?

NP: Yeah I watched a couple when I was there. I participated in the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA). I have been waiting my entire career for distribution channels to be extensive in Africa and Nigeria specifically so I could have a film that could participate and AFRIFF is such a wonderful platform and opportunity for a film like mine to be introduced to Africa. And specifically because we deal with African iconography.

We start with an African prologue [in the movie]. We have characters speaking Twi. We have West African culture represented.

Nat Turner’s mother and grandmother were Ghanaian and had survived The Middle Passage [when millions of Africans were shipped to the New World for slave trade].

I don’t think Nat Turner without his African roots would have had the inspiration to fight.

We know that his grandmother was part of the Akan tribe which is known for their resistance and fierceness and courage. And all of that came into play with his revolt and influenced his interpretation of the Christian faith and the Bible and gave him strength.

BN: On building the bridge [between Africa and the African-American experience], this was a real labour of love for you. It took years. And until it made a big splash at Sundance, it was really your effort and your passion. 

Do you have advice for Nigerian and African filmmakers that want to put their films on a worldwide platform?

NP: There’s no stopping distribution now. Does that mean that every film will have a theatrical release? No. But I know that YouTube exists. I know that there are different forms of distribution …

I would tell filmmakers, if you have a story to tell, tell the story.

Don’t tell the story in the hopes that it’ll be commercialized. Don’t tell the story in hopes that it’ll make a splash anywhere. Because that’s the first step to compromise – when you’re making a film for profit margins, for other people.

You’ll have to compromise on the things that make it honest.

Had I had a studio initially, I could point out 10 places the studio would have said, “No thank you!”

Make the art. No matter what happens after that, just make the art and make it true.

BN: Do you see any parallels with the movie and what’s going on right now in the United States with the #BlackLivesMatter movement? What does that mean to you that your work is speaking to that and affecting lives?The Birth of a Nation_Gabrielle UnionNP: It was designed to that. I had the benefit of writing the screenplay and really planting seeds that I thought would be informative to where we are in America and where we are in the world. I think the work of our ancestors is good work that if we would just be open to the idea of examining their approach to the injustices that they saw, we would be able to derive solutions to the problems we see today.

But unfortunately, as James Baldwin says, “We suffer from simple mindedness”. 

We want things to be simple and not rock the boat and challenge the privilege of those who have. So the hope is that they would inspire others to tell their stories. And at some point, if everyone is creating to reflect their specific stance, there will be a groundswell of action.

I’m a filmmaker, that’s what I do.

But I think that everyone has a responsibility to address injustices.

If you’re a journalist, if you’re a lawyer, if you’re a realtor, whatever it is that you do, we have more tools than Nat Turner had… We have so much more. So my hope is that my work can inspire people to think differently and to have the courage to draw on their ancestors for strength.

BN: Final question – BellaNaija.com has a lot of female readers and a lot of avid commenters. There are a lot of strong female characters in this movie. How did you approach developing them?

NP: *Smiles*The Birth of a Nation_movie_aja naomi king and nate parkerI made this movie recognizing that females were just as part of the revolution as anyone, and it’s always been that way. In fact, at every step that Nat felt inspired, it came at the actions and support of a woman. Even when he went to fight, in my imaginations of what happened, he drew on the support of those women to be more audacious and more emboldened.

Whether it be his grandmother telling him about how his grandfather fought in Africa, or it being his mother taking him before African elders in the Maroon colonies [Maroons were Africans who successfully escaped from slavery in America and formed independent settlements of their own] that spoke prophecies over him and spoke power into him.

Or it being his wife saying, “if you fight, you fight for all of us.”

I think that that resistance and revolution doesn’t come from some iconic, heroic figure. It comes from a community and a village. And sometimes it manifests in one person to start, but I think that the actual ingredients that come along with revolution are brought from every direction, from every person, and I wanted to celebrate that.

***

Many thanks to @filmoneng & @foxsearchlight for having BellaNaija Movies & TV onboard for this fantastic opportunity!

Photos: facebook.com/TheBirthofaNation/

11 Comments

  1. Dean

    October 12, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Whats all the fuss about Jollof rice… Let dem try out other dope meal. What about pounded yam with well stocked vege-gusi

    • chingasco5

      October 12, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      Dean, you talk am!

  2. Anonymous

    October 12, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Isn’t there a scandal about him concerning rape? Later una go call Linda and SDK classless, this is the height of classlessness from you BN!

  3. bisi

    October 12, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    nice!

  4. Emperor Jeezy

    October 12, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Nice,i wonder if mr parker raped any Nigerian women on his trips.

    • m4

      October 12, 2016 at 6:48 pm

      hahahah you guys won´t kill somebody one day with laugher.It´s a valid question though

  5. Weezy

    October 12, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Well done BN. You may be the only media outlet that agreed to his demands that you not ask him about rape.

    My thing with this guy is that he tells us not to focus on him and his past, focus on the movie. But he CAST himself as the protagonist in the movie. So we should pretend we are watching Nat Turner and not Nate Parker – even though he isn’t a good enough actor to accomplish convincing people that he isn’t playing Nate Parker Reimagined as Nat Turner. There’s also the baffling decision to co-write the movie with his homie who was tried for the same rape incident.

    • David

      October 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      Have you even bothered to read about the case. Dude was a teenager in college at the time. Parker and the girl accuser had had sex previously on multiple occasions, They were both intoxicated on the night she claims he raped her but there isn’t evidence to prove that she didn’t consent to sex with him. He was acquitted by an all white jury, again proof that he is innocent. His roommate though was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail. Mind you this was in college.

      Since then, he’s featured in so many movies including a few high profile ones. Birth of a Nation is by far the most provoking and suddenly these rape accusations (for which he was cleared) resurface. Doesn’t that tell you something?

  6. miriam

    October 13, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Thought this guy is a rapist

  7. Tosin

    October 13, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Now on my to-see list.
    Wow, y’all really did an interview with the dude. Did you see him in Beyond The Lights? Love that little project.

    • bodunade

      October 13, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      me toooo

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