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On accountability, doing the work and public discourse

This dispatch was added by one of our Nonprofit Neighbors. It does not represent the editorial voice of The Rapidian or Community Media Center.

There is value in critically assessing the way crucial narratives are told and how these narratives impact the societies in which they circulate.

/Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight The Birth of a Nation.

Underwriting support from:

This piece is from the staff of Partners for a Racism-Free Community and does not represent the views of affiliated organizations or partners.

More often than not, when particular spotlights are placed on individuals we are confronted by histories that affect the way we interpret works of art. The histories of individuals matter; they affect the way in which a story is told and the way in which the audience receives it. With these thoughts in mind, we were forced to grapple with the truths behind the production and accusations levied against Nate Parker, director of "The Birth of a Nation," because we have partnered with Celebration! Cinema to do a post-screening discussion during ArtPrize.

We would be remiss if we did not address these accusations ahead of time, because they matter. It matters when histories of abuse are brought to light. It matters that a young woman’s life was affected by the actions of these two men. It matters that the producers 17 years later have made a film where sexual violence is an element of the story arc. It is vitally important that we hold individuals accountable for their actions. However, it is equally as important that we discuss the resulting works of art and how the history told is shaped by those empowered to tell the story.

Our decision to support the screening of this film comes paired with two critical thoughts. First, this is a film that deals with a history that had a vital impact on race and racism in this country. Secondly, we believe that there is value in critically assessing the way crucial narratives are told and how these narratives impact the societies in which they circulate. While over the next few months there will be varying streams of discourse regarding the significance of this film and the impact of the allegations faced by the makers, we know one truth remains: doing the work of racial equity means evaluating all narratives with a critical lens at all times.

In our post viewing discussion with Dr. Vanessa Holden, we will address the significance of the producers in telling this story. We’ll evaluate how the framing of Nat Turner’s Rebellion is significant – particularly in the way it frames women of color over the course of the film. We will discuss why historical context matters in understanding the ways in which racism shapes our present day realities. We will not erase the knowledge of the suffering that came after this film, or that follows it in distribution. We recognize the value of critiquing the objectionable while also maintaining our commitment to hold those who do harm accountable for their actions – critiquing this film is where we exercise the complex requirements of discourse and furthering broader understandings of what we place in circulation at large.

We hope you will join us September 21 at 7:30 p.m. to explore the history, complexity and the art. 

Tickets to the screening of The Birth of a Nation can be requested on the Partners for a Racism-Free Community website. Seats are limited.

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