So here we are. On one hand, we are confronted by the anticipation of cinematic art on the silver screen that portrays the tragedy and triumph of the Black revolutionary Nat Turner in the movie, The Birth of a Nation. On the other hand, we’ve learned more about the co-writer, coproducer, director, and actor, Nate Parker who was acquitted in a 1999 rape case. In addition, we know that in 2012, his accuser committed suicide. The dilemma is whether or not we should go see the movie or remain loyal to our values around not enabling rape culture. There have been a number of social media posts and articles written that advocate for going to see the movie because of its graphic and seemingly accurate portrayal of Black history; and a number of essays that contend that the movie should not be seen because of the rape allegations against Nate Parker.
Whether Nate Parker was guilty or innocent of sexual assault, can we as a community, begin or continue the sensitive discussion about how devastating rape is for Black America? The issue for many of us and our families is that we have traditionally enabled a culture of silence, entitlement, and male privilege that holds us hostage from acknowledging the truth that we have brothers and sisters in our families who abuse power and make poor decisions around their sexuality. Rape is always about power and no one ever wants to be sexually coerced or manipulated. It does not matter what someone wears or does not wear; it does not matter how someone walks or talks; it does not matter if alcohol or drugs are involved; and for Heaven’s sake, it does not matter if there is an invitation to someone’s home after midnight. Rape, by definition, is the willful sexual aggression or manipulation against the consent of someone else. You cannot touch anyone without them giving you permission. We really have to stop our debilitating discourse with the excuses we make that creates a destructive sense of systemic and individual entitlement and misconstrued ownership to other people’s bodies. [End Page vii]
We can go back and forth from now until the end of time about Nate Parker and what court documents said, didn’t say, or if he was guilty or innocent. But how can we speak out against anyone and remain silent when our brothers, sisters, and friends who we personally know have been sexually compromised by perpetrators who attend our family reunions, birthday parties, and Thanksgiving dinners? We all have people in our immediate and extended families who have personally or vicariously experienced sexual assault or perpetration and we have done nothing but enabled it to happen over and over by our silence.
Is it possible for us to go see the movie and accept it as another medium for accessing our history and have constructive discussions with our friends and family about the pervasiveness of rape in our communities? Should we really have to choose to see the movie or not? If we choose to not see the movie as a stance against rape culture, would we be willing to pick up a book, find another movie, or visit a museum to learn about Black history? But then, if we do not go see the movie but still listen to patriarchal, misogynistic, gangsta rap or watch television shows the cast Black women in sexualized or submissive roles, wouldn’t that make us hypocrites? If Black America is going to take a stand, great. If we are only going to take a stand and then sit back down by participating in a culture that traditionally remains silent, then what are we really saying about ourselves and to the people who are survivors? Moreover, if we only take a stand for women who have been sexually assaulted and remain obtuse about those brothers and sisters who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender who are raped, then how does that position us within our own families and communities?
Maybe the revolution that Nat Turner would have wanted for us almost 200 years later is our ability and motivation to confront our...