Nate Parker

Program Date November 19, 2016

"THE LEGACY OF THE NAT TURNER INSURRECTION"

The Birth of a Nation, a new film about the 1831 Nat Turner slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia, swept the accolades at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and set a festival record when the worldwide distribution rights were immediately purchased for $17.5 million. Scheduled for theatrical release in October and already being discussed for its Oscar potential, this film is the passion project of its writer, producer, director, and star, Nate Parker, a native of Norfolk, Virginia. In a Richmond Forum exclusive, Parker will discuss the importance of bringing this story to the big screen and its relevance to the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality in America.

BACKGROUND

Nate Parker became an actor by accident, and a director through obsession.

Born in Norfolk in 1979, Parker was a champion wrestler at Chesapeake's Great Bridge High School before accepting an athletic scholarship from Penn State where he was nationally ranked as a freshman. He later transferred to the University of Oklahoma where he became an All American and earned a degree in computer programming.

While working as a programmer, Parker accompanied a friend to a modeling convention in Dallas where he was noticed by a talent manager. After readings and screen tests, Parker was encouraged to move with his wife and three daughters (now four) to California and study a completely different profession: acting.

After a few commercials, bit parts, and minor roles, Parker was selected to play the role of Henry Lowe in The Great Debaters, the acclaimed 2007 movie directed by Denzel Washington and co-starring Forest Whitaker. His powerful portrayal landed him a role opposite Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah in the 2008 film, The Secret Life of Bees.

After that, opportunities were plentiful for the young actor. Parker accepted a lead role in the 2012 George Lucas movie Red Tails, the same year in which he starred in Spike Lee's film Red Hook Summer. That year he also starred in Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon.

Then, in 2014, Parker played the lead opposite Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the critical acclaimed film Beyond the Lights, starred in Non-Stop with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, and played major roles in the independent films Ain't Them Bodies Saints and About Alex.

Yet even as his acting career was accelerating, there was a constant preoccupation for Parker—the desire to create a film based on the life of Nat Turner, leader of an 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia in which more than 60 white people were killed.

After nearly a decade of planning, in 2014, Parker announced he had the funding and began assembling a team to create his film entitled The Birth of a Nation, a title shared by the famously racist 1915 silent film by D.W. Griffith. In addition to writing and directing the film, Parker cast himself as Turner.

The film premiered to rave reviews at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, after which Fox Searchlight Pictures purchased its worldwide distribution rights for a festival record $17.5 million. It won both the festival's Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award.

"The film connects with a nerve," said Robert Redford, who founded the Sundance Institute in 1980. Parker was also awarded the CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year Award for 2016, although the film had yet to even be released.

Parker is committed to being an outspoken and positive force in the community. He mentors 24 children from schools in central Los Angeles and spearheads projects and events with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He sponsors a Peace for Kids scholarship fund and works personally in their after-school programs.

 

>> Continue to January 2017 program.

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