‘Richest’ Deal In Sundance History For Slave Revolt Film

The power of fear, it’s a powerful emotion which can either command attention or distract the populace from any true conversation. Fear leading to hate completes a cycle of propaganda and misinformation that plays to a prepared narrative often ordained by a powerful few, bringing with it a tide of problems that we’re still grappling with as urgently today as a 100 years ago.

D.W. Griffith basically regarded as one of the most prolific and innovative filmmakers of all time, in 1915 created a film that was the most racist film not only of its time but to date,” and a 100 years later as Nate Parker talks as the director, writer, producer and star of his new film The Birth Of A Nation, his concern is with creating a new legacy. Borrowing his title from the original film,  Nate Parker is aware of the existing legacy of Hollywood in contributing to that culture of fear, “The original 1915 film would have you believe that the true birth of this nation was based on it’s justified fear of people of African descent.” After the D.W Griffith’s film opened in theatres it led to the rise of the KKK to 4 million and became a justified cause for white supremacy.

Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews, The Birth of a Nation, is Nate Parkers interpretation of the true story of Nat Turner a historical figure who inspired and led the 1831 slave rebellion. Selling the project to investors and his cast on it’s future legacy, Nate Parker’s belief that it would start an honest conversation about slavery, convinced Fox Searchlight who closed the deal to acquire the worldwide rights for $17.5 million making this Sundance Festivals richest deal to date.

Owned by 21st Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, is considered a powerhouse in the Academy Awards, having already accumulated 9 Oscar nominations in 2014, for 12 Years a Slave. Despite competing bids from various Hollywood studios as well as Netflix who offered $20 million according to Varity, the deal still came through as the richest secured in Sundance history.

While the riches of this deal have hit the headlines, the debates about anti-racist policy and Reparations for slavery are still considered a divisive topic, as Ta-Nahisi Coates writes in The Atlantic “The point is not that reparations is not divisive. The point is that anti-racism is always divisive.” With a growing racial divide across the U.S, Coates continues, “If class-based policy alone is insufficient to banish racism in Europe, why would it prove to be sufficient in a country founded on white supremacy?

The Birth of A Nation - Sundance

Speaking of Europe, with hate crimes on the rise there is a sense that this is becoming a divisive issue on a global scale, nations are becoming increasingly polarised around the subject of race and the culture industries are being held to account about their lack of diversity. While the debate goes on about the Oscars, the lack of diversity in British broadcasting and the music industry is also catching heat and more cultural figures are also weighing in to try and tackle the issue of ‘White Privilege’. With white writers eerily silent in commentary about Macklemore’s ‘White Privilege‘, the debate has yet to really get started about what creates the fear of a people?

A revealing conversation on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert and DeRay McKesson a leading activist in the Black Live Matter movement, about ‘white privilege’ and why white people find it uncomfortable  to talk about race. Stephen Colbert responded from a personal perspective that –  ‘I feel guilty for anyone who does not have the things I have, that includes black people or anyone, because I’m so blessed there’s always the fear that it will be taken from me‘.

So we come back to that very same culture of fear – the fear of talking, the fear of losing privileges and the fear of recriminations for having those privileges. Wherever the conversation goes this year, from the 2016 Oscars, Grammy’s and Brits – the question will still remain are we talking from fear when it comes to talking about diversity?