Let me start by saying that there is a big difference between Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation and R. Kelly’s "Remix to Ignition".
If that needs to be explained to you, please walk outside, sit down, and come back when you’ve thought about what you’ve done.
Nate Parker has found himself in the headlines based on rape allegations he received back in 1999 while doing his undergrad at Penn State. He and his roommate (Jean Celestin, the co-writer of Birth of a Nation) were accused of rape by a woman who claimed she was unconscious and drunk at the time of the occurrence. The charges against Parker were ultimately dropped. However, with Birth of a Nation slated for an October release, the scrutiny on the actor's past has increased. In the news more recently, it was revealed that Parker’s accuser committed suicide a decade or so after the Penn State incident happened. Parker addressed this recent discovery by taking to his Facebook page and spoke his mind:
I cannot - nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law.
There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.
I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability.
With all of this afoot my social media timelines have been riddled with anger and claims of boycotting the film’s theatrical debut this October in solidarity with women and survivors of rape.
As a survivor of rape, frankly, I’m annoyed.
First of all, I’ll state the obvious. It took more than Nate Parker to create Birth of a Nation. So when you boycott his film — you are also boycotting the grips, the costume designers, the background actors, the location scouts, the film editors, the musicians that created the score, the people who served the crew lunch… You’re boycotting hours and years out of people’s lives, time away from family members and the anticipation of their hard work paying off.
Don’t do that.
Secondly, this boycott, like hashtag trends, is just a pacification. A band-aid. An opportunity for people to take a very large and overwhelming issue, pull off the palpable pieces and react in the least effective way possible — simple inaction. To refuse to see a movie which will likely do very well at the box office despite boycotts, does nothing for the problem at large. It’s practically a slap in the fact to those of us who have actually felt voiceless, choice-less and ignored. It’s as impactful as tossing a quarter in the general direction of a homeless man sleeping in his own excrement, shaken by PTSD, and drug abuse. You’ve done nothing but soothe your own guilt.
If you want to effect change, look at yourself. I’m talking to Black men here especially.
I find it endearing that Black men are concerned with the state of Black women, our safety and our chastity. I find it problematic that some of them also take no issue with having babies by women they don’t intend to keep or quietly womanizing us as if it’s their day job, or supporting every other element of rape culture except when it comes to something that singes their own ego.
You ain’t ready to boycott rape culture. You don’t even know it when you see it. Because you may find that as a Black man, you have to start by boycotting yourself.
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Ask yourself a few basic questions about your own behavior:
Have you ever spit game at a girl walking past you on the street?
Did she ask to be harassed by you?
Did you think it was innocent and funny?
Did you think because she laughed it off and kept walking that you were the exception to rape culture?
Did you think that because she handed you her number that you were the exception to rape culture?
Are you also going to boycott the generations of artists responsible for establishing and perpetuating a standard of female oppression? I’m talking about everyone from Al Green to Biggie Smalls.
When you see a billboard or a commercial or a magazine ad with a scantily clad woman draped in front of a cheeseburger or lip balm or a household cleaning product are you going to then stop using that product? Will you post about it on your social media pages?
And Can We Talk About The Fact That Parker Was Acquitted?
I know sometimes guilty people are acquitted and innocent people are convicted. And I’m more than aware of the obscene lack of seriousness rape, in general, is given by the court system. Nate Parker made a bad choice and ended up in hot water. That’s what we know for sure — the rest, only Parker and his accuser are privy to. Parker then went on to create a groundbreaking film about a groundbreaking historical figure which is hitting theaters during a groundbreaking time for Black people.
And you fools are gonna skip it.
But did you skip any of the movies carrying a direct narrative that was contributing to the deterioration of female equality?
Did you check the cast and crew list of every piece of entertainment you supported to see if anyone was listed on the Megan’s Law website?
Do you speak up to your friends when they use objectifying language towards women?
Or do you only stand on this soapbox when nothing actionable is required?
I know, I know… It’s the principle, right?
The concept of separating art from the artist isn’t something everyone can process. To believe that you can admire someone’s body of work and abhor them as people requires complex thinking and a broad perspective. It requires you to not personally identify with the artist as a person, but only as a facilitator of an emotional process through their art.
It also requires you not to buy into the “Big Bad Black Wolf” label that tends to be slapped across Black men on the rise. Maybe Parker is a passive-aggressive, self-hating, woman-abuser. Maybe he’s a guy trying to make dope art who slept with the wrong girl in college.
Maybe he’s both. Maybe he’s neither.
But to hold focus on the semantics and technicalities instead of the actual issue at hand will dead our cultural development and pull us two steps backward for every step forward. The truth of the matter is that some of the most valued contributors to the art world were monsters to someone. Some of those stories will never surface. Some of the victims will never be heard. And we’ll go on praising them, supporting their every move because to us, they aren’t monsters. They’re heroes. Role models. One intricately researched expose away from being cast to the shadows in honor of their victims.
You’re not doing me any favors if you don’t see Birth of a Nation. Or if you never watch another episode of "The Cosby Show". Or if you change the station when an R. Kelly song comes on. None of us will be un-raped by our passive support.
Take a magnifying glass to your own actions.
Take a grain of salt with the actions of others.
That is how you effect change.
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Will you be supporting Birth of a Nation? How do you feel about passive activism? Sound off in the comments below.
Ashley Simpo is a freelance writer, creative and founder of bare frut collective, the first online directory for creative black girls. Follow her at @AshleySimpo