Nate Parker‘s critically acclaimed Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation is set to hit theaters this Friday nationwide. It was purchased at the Sundance Film Festival by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million in a worldwide rights deal.
The film – written, produced, directed, and starring Parker – has seen its share of controversy in recent weeks; not necessarily over the movie’s content, but regarding a decades-old rape case in which Parker was involved and acquitted.
During this year’s NABJ/NAHJ conference, Parker and the cast of The Birth of a Nation discussed how important the film is at a special panel discussion. After becoming aware of Nat Turner’s story, Parker said the leader of the most successful slave rebellion in United States history became his hero.
The film producer later told the audience he wanted to tell the story of Nat Turner, “so people could maybe have something that could contextualize their existence in a way that was connected to something that was powerful, that was strong, and that was heroic and brilliant and faith-based.”
He added, “It wasn’t a contradiction because he was brown.”
Costar Gabrielle Union told the audience she “assumed Hollywood would not make the Nat Turner story.
“If there was a story that spoke to me as someone who had fully assimilated, who wouldn’t take a picture for a good five years without curling my lips because I didn’t want my lips too big,” the Nat Turner story resonated with her because “it was somebody who fought back, saw injustice, and did something.”
Feeling a sense of “constant pride” that she was able to be a part of the film, fellow star Aja Naomi King said Parker “is not the person that you question whether or not someone will let him do something.” She continued, “That’s what we all need to be. There is no let; we are human beings. There shouldn’t be anyone allowing us to exist and do as we please.”
In King’s eyes, the most powerful thing about the Nat Turner biopic is that we can “see Black people fighting for themselves, not running away, but standing their ground, speaking out for themselves and saying what we need.”
According to the actress, this imagery is “so beyond necessary.”
Watch Nate Parker and the cast of The Birth of a Nation discuss the film in the video clip above.