The Jewish-Canadian film Birth of a Nation—supposedly about an 1831 black slave uprising—has been panned as a “complete fabrication” by Ohio State University’s leading African American and African Studies professor Leslie Alexander.
The film, produced by Aaron Gilbert’s Bron Studios in British Columbia, is supposed to be based on fact—but there is not a single fact in the movie, professor Alexander said.
Edited by well-known U.S. film editor Steven Rosenblum, the movie was written by black author Nate Parker and his wife—both of whom stood trial for rape of a young woman in 1999, Alexander wrote in an article in the Nation.
“Across the country, social media lit up as people debated Parker’s guilt, questioned whether to boycott the film, and expressed outrage about violence against women,” Alexander wrote in her article, titled “‘The Birth of a Nation’ Is an Epic Fail.”
“As the storm raged, however, one critical issue went ignored. No one questioned the fundamental value or quality of the film. Based on the standing ovations it received at the Sundance Film Festival, we assumed that The Birth of a Nation was inherently valuable, inspirational, educational, and transformative.
“We were wrong. The Birth of a Nation claims to tell the true story of Nat Turner, leader of the bloodiest slave rebellion in United States history.
“A film on Turner is long overdue, and as a professional historian of the black experience in the nineteenth century, I have anxiously awaited one.
“I was especially encouraged by September’s issue of Vanity Fair, in which Parker stated that he had become ‘obsessed with the idea of telling Nat Turner’s story’ and that he sought to create ‘historical fidelity in his depiction of the leader of the rebellion.’
“After attending an advance screening of the film, however, I now know that Parker failed miserably in his mission.
“Contrary to his promises of ‘historical fidelity,’ Parker created a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.
“Nearly everything in the movie—ranging from Turner’s relationship with his family, to his life as a slave, and even the rebellion itself—is a complete fabrication.
“Certainly the film contains sprinklings of historical fact, but the bulk of Parker’s story about the rebellion is fictitious: Nat Turner did not murder his owner, nor did he kill a slave patroller.
“Turner’s rebellion was not betrayed by a young boy, or by anyone else involved in the revolt. To the contrary, the rebels fought until the bitter end. The shootout depicted in Jerusalem, Virginia, never happened, because the rebels were stopped by the militia before they ever reached Jerusalem. The list of inaccuracies, distortions, and fabrications goes on and on.”
Alexander went on to point out that distortions in the historical record of this nature are “damaging and insidious.”
Although she does not say it directly, it is clear that reference here is being made to the portrayal of white people in the film as utterly evil.
“Consider, for example, the film’s troubling depictions of black women. A crucial turning point in the movie occurs when Turner’s wife, Cherry, is brutally gang raped by a group of slave patrollers—an attack the film portrays as the spark that ultimately drove Turner to launch his rebellion.
“But there is not a shred of historical evidence to suggest that Cherry was ever raped by slave patrollers, nor is there any evidence to indicate that an attack on his wife inspired Turner to rebel,” Alexander wrote.
“I will let others speculate on the reasons why Parker and Celestin decided to fabricate a story line about rape—specifically gang rape—to spin a false tale about the motivation for Nat Turner’s rebellion. I will simply say that their story is not only untrue but it also perpetuates destructive lies about black women,” Alexander added.
“Parker and Celestin’s portrayal of slavery is also shallow and superficial. At its core, The Birth of a Nation is a collection of every cliché image and story line from every movie you’ve ever seen about slavery: Slavery was bad. Black people were treated badly. Black people got whipped, tortured, raped, and killed. Black people fought back, but still got whipped, tortured, raped, and killed.”
An article in the Jewish Independent quoted Aaron Gilbert from Bron Studios as saying that “being Jewish certainly influences his decisions and the kinds of material he’s attracted to.
“‘My parents have always been so active in the Jewish community and that’s part of who I am and how I live my life, overall. I’m not in synagogue every Saturday, but I’m Jewish and culturally aware, and I know my roots.
“I’m definitely attracted to real-life stories about how Jews live in our existing world,’” Gilbert said.