Rape Culture Inhibits Success of The Birth Of A Nation

rape

The Women’s Center at Marshall University defines rape culture as an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.

Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation, and Rape Culture

Nate Parker’s past has been well documented. He and his co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of rape in 1999. Nate was acquitted while Jean was convicted which was overturned on appeal. The accuser has since killed herself, with her family stating that the whole ordeal sent her into a spiral of deep depression. This case was brought to light right before the release of his blockbuster film, causing many to question whether racism was a motivating factor to derail the success of the movie. However, Parker’s callous, nonchalant, angry and defiant responses to consent and the meaning of rape culture caused quite a backlash from many black and white males and females.

The movie is going to be profitable, but it’s lack of blockbuster status (“12 Years A Slave” made $60 million whereas The “Birth of a Nation” will probably not exceed initial projections of $25-30 million in spite of being open in almost 1000 more theaters) is due to Nate Parker’s lack of understanding or acknowledgment of rape culture. After initially flubbing it, he had an epiphany in which he said he had gained understanding, only to revert back to his initial stance of “I didn’t do anything. There’s nothing to see here.”

Fox Searchlight (who paid a record 17.5 million dollars for the film) tried to shut the negative press down or at least minimize it. They do it all the time when their studio actors/producers get in trouble. In fact, 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight’s parent company) most recently did it for Bryan Singer before “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” came out when he was accused of raping young boys who worked on set with him. That case is still pending but no one ever talks about that so public relations definitely could’ve shut down most if not all questions about his previous rape acquittal. Unfortunately, Nate rejected the talking points of the public relations experts hired by the studio on rape culture. He even turned down an offer by two of his biggest backers, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King, to appear on the latter’s show to talk about his case in what would’ve been a nice, safe environment.

Michelle Murray makes an excellent point. Nate should’ve taken the Netflix deal. They actually offered him more money upfront than did Fox Searchlight (20-25 million reported versus 17.5 million). It’s obvious that he wanted to get ticket sale money and bask in the accolades of having a movie in theaters. Had he taken the Netflix deal, there would have been no media hype on his previous rape charges, and no need to take a major press tour as Netflix would’ve taken care of all promotions with their built in 25 million-plus subscriber fan base. The movie would’ve been seen and not forgotten at the Oscars. Think “Beasts of No Nation” and how well that did. That could’ve easily been him but he probably wanted to get that extra sales percentage. He wasn’t thinking longterm and it may now cost him longterm.

As a black male, this has been conflicting for me. I recognize racism in Hollywood and society at large when it comes to black male/white female rape and the promotion of black movies, particularly those focusing on slave rebellions. Still, I made the decision not to see the movie in theaters after reading the court transcripts of his initial trial. His response to that trial seemed to be a dismissal, if not an upholding, of rape culture. Apparently, I am not alone even among black people.

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