25 August 2016
The American Film Institute has called off a Los Angeles screening of slavery movie; “The Birth of a Nation’’ amid controversy over an old rape case involving the film’s director, just as Hollywood’s awards season swings into gear.
The screening scheduled for Friday at the AFI, was to be followed by a question-and-answer session with director Nate Parker.
This screening was what would have been Parker’s first public event since it emerged second week of the month that the accuser in his 1999 rape trial and acquittal committed suicide in 2012.
Parker, 36, was little known before writing, directing and starring in the film which wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was seen as a strong 2017 Oscar contender.
It tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831.
Movie studio Fox Searchlight had said that it would stand by the movie, which would get its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
There are speculations in Hollywood that the rape case would affect the film’s marketing and jeopardise its Oscar chances.
The AFI said that its Dean, Jan Schuette said that the Friday screening had been postponed until an unspecified date because of the “many different passionate points of view about the screening’’ he had received.
“I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together – messenger and message, gender, race and more – before we see the film,” Schuette added.
Parker said last week that the 1999 incident was “a very painful moment in my life,” details of the case had set off a fierce debate in Hollywood.
The black community and women groups said it was not possible to separate art from the artist.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton and singer Harry Belafonte had defended the film, suggesting some sections of the media were using the rape case to discredit a powerful story about slave resistance.
The Hollywood Reporter quoted some members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes for the Oscars, as saying the film had become problematic.
“The Birth of a Nation” is scheduled to open in U.S. movie theatres on October 7.
Oscar nominations are announced on January 24.
The film shares a title with the 1915 D.W. Griffith epic drama, but is a very different story and is told from an African-American perspective.