With a total shut out at the Independent Spirit Awards, the long strange saga of Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” comes to an end. An ignominious end.
At $17 million, “Birth” set a Sundance record for sales last January after winning the grand jury prize. Everyone wanted it, even Harvey Weinstein. But Fox Searchlight, so successful with “12 Years a Slave,” was the natural winner of the auction. “Birth” was tipped for Oscars galore and big box office.
But now, the movie that wasn’t has made just $15.8 million and is about to exit theaters. There is no foreign release. The Spirit Awards snub is just the beginning. “Birth” will be absent from all awards mention.
It wasn’t Fox Searchlight’s fault. They had no idea that the director and star of the film, Nate Parker, was carrying grenades in his “baggage.” His background included a college- years acquittal on the charge of rape. His screenwriter was found guilty, overturned on appeal and not re-tried. Then the young women in question turned out to have committed suicide years later.
Parker was not contrite, or sorry. Instead of trying to smooth out the situation, he made it worse, reignited it, lied by omission, and demonstrated tremendous insensitivity. It wouldn’t have mattered how good the reviews were. He did himself in. It may take a decade or more to repair his career damage. And don’t get me started about the victim in the rape case.
I guarantee you that come this January at Sundance, any new or unknown filmmaker will endure a background check before anyone writes a check. They may even be asked to indemnify the buyer of their film should something unexpected hinder the release. And the movie “Birth of a Nation”? It should be seen by students. I just hope it won’t take a decade for that to happen, too.