Removing the director from the film
We are nearing the release of The Birth of a Nation into theatres, a Sundance Festival smash that is somehow proving more controversial than the 1915 cinematic love letter to the KKK that shares its namesake.
Despite initial warm reactions from press screenings, the film has become bogged down in the public eye because of director Nate Parker’s previous accusations of rape, resurfacing some 17-years after they occurred.
Now, the conversation surrounding The Birth of a Nation has pushed the film itself out of the spotlight in favour of pushing Parker’s character back into it.
This recent episode brings up the age-old question of whether or not we, as a culture, can separate an artist (their personality, political views, crimes etc.) from their art.
Too often we have this romanticized view of an artwork being an extension of an artist, which inadvertently infers that if that artist is a morally reprehensible person then, somehow, his work will reflect this.
We conflate the two and make them inseparable. It’s like every piece of art carries the burden of its creator’s reputation.
So somewhere in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown lies his sexual abuse. Somewhere in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Game nests his homophobia. Somewhere on John Lennon’s Imagine hides his spousal abuse.
Normally, we can turn a blind eye to the lesser aspects of the artist and appreciate the work. Enough time passes, fan bases overwhelm any detracting opinion of records, or they are superficially exonerated by the quality of the work they release. It’s difficult to remain outraged and refuse to support their career if they continually create beautiful works of art.
But these are cases of not separating artist from art, they are ignoring the artist in light of the art.
This luxury has not been allowed for Nate Parker, whose 1999 rape allegations persist.
Not to sympathize with an accused rapist, but this treatment is inconsistent.
Yes, Parker’s case details are unsettling and often damning when paired with his belligerent and defensive interviews he has given on the subject. However, this has nothing to do with his film.
The Birth of a Nation is a bleak look at race relations through the eyes of a Nat Turner, a leader of a slave rebellion in 19th century America.
It is an important story that deserves to be told and deserves to be watched, but in the eyes of his critics, it can be separated from its ultimate message if the one speaking it is somehow reprehensible.
How can we trust a progressive message that claims to speak for social justice if it comes from a rapist?
This is why separating artist and art is important. The Birth of a Nation is audaciously primed to address the stringent problems of race relations in the United States.
Nate Parker may be irredeemable in your eyes, but his film should stand outside of his accusations as its own medium.
If you cannot bring yourself to buy a ticket and financially support Parker, I implore you to find another (maybe online) avenue to experience the movie.
I’m not asking you to like the man or excuse what he allegedly did.
All I ask is that you not let your view of the man behind the camera cloud his art and the message he, and all of those who also worked on the film, are trying to convey.