I haven’t seen The Birth of a Nation and I more than likely never will. Mostly because, in more ways than one, the film is evidential of the fact that nobody takes women’s trauma seriously. 2016 has given us two glaring and inexcusable real life examples of this as well.
After Kid Cudi took to the internet with a heartfelt letter to his fans detailing his struggles with mental illness, the world imploded with positivity and well wishes for the rapper. Cudi’s confession spawned the twitter hashtag #YouGoodMan. Finally, however briefly, giving black men the opportunity to lay down the shield they’ve been socialized to carry at all times and bear their hearts with raw honesty.
Many praised Cudi as somewhat of a hero for the bravery it took to admit his struggles even in the face of a patriarchal society governed in part by toxic hypermasculinity. Which, among other things, perpetuates the notion that expressing emotions (negative or positive) makes men gay or weak.
Kid Cudi did show bravery. Hypermasculinity does need to be dismantled. The #YouGoodMan hashtag is an important step in beginning a discussion on the effects of harmful gender roles on the male psyche. But the praise lavished on Cudi was in stark contrast to the horrific and vicious bullying budding R&B songstress Kehlani received after having the courage to discuss her suicide attempt on Instagram earlier this year. Kehlani was mocked to the point where she had to briefly deleted her Instagram account. The majority of her bullies were men. Men who defended their mockery of her traumatic experience by saying she was being dramatic. According to them, she was doing it for the attention.
The second example is the complete and utter full out war that racist, misogynoir-driven twitter users waged against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones simply for being Leslie Jones. For over 24 hours sickening memes comparing Jones to a gorilla, calling her a “big lipped coon”, and defaming her character flooded the social media platform. As Jones attempted to fight back and expose her relentless tormentors, the twitter staff remained silent, seemingly apathetically watching her be painfully dismantled. Harassers went as far as stealing her nude photos and releasing them online. It wasn’t until Jones briefly left twitter to escape the hate that staff stepped in banning multiple users, but the damage had already been done. The slow reaction and neglectfulness is the complete opposite of how other celebrities have been treated on social media platforms. For example, after the Taylor Swift vs Kimye debacle, Instagram staff members almost instantaneously disabled comments under the Shake It Off singer’s posts to prevent her from being bullied by malicious users. Society makes clear over and over that black women’s physical and mental health is of the lowest priority.
Jones, talking about her experiences during the 2016 Emmys.
They say art imitates life. This brings us to Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation. The Nat Turner biopic isn’t the first popular piece of cinema to throw in rape for shock value. Arch-villain Cersei Lannister is raped by her twin brother in Game of Thrones season 4, a scene not even included in the novels that the gruesome series is based on. Patsey is regularly raped by her slave master Epps in the award winning 12 Years A Slave. Neither one of these rapes add anything of relevance to the plot lines of their narratives or the character development of their victims. They’re merely thrown in to show viewers the grotesque reality of life as a woman in cinema. This isn’t really necessary as viewers are very much aware of the grotesque reality of life as woman in…reality. 1 in 6 women are victims are rape. A statistic Nate Parker might be aware of as he “allegedly” contributed to it.
What sets the The Birth Of a Nation rape scene apart is the fact that it was written by an alleged rapist for a real life victim of rape (Gabrielle Union) to perform. This comes across as the playing out of a fetishistic, insensitive, and remorseless fantasy coming from the mind of someone who was accused of sexual assault in 1999. As the rape allegations surfaced many cried they were just an attempt to suppress Nat Turner’s story which desperately needed to be seen by us as a people. Nate Parker was acquitted, they said.
Just because Nate Parker was acquitted doesn’t mean he’s innocent. Especially when you consider the fact that out of every 1000 rapes 994 perpetrators will walk free. 994. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. And this is just in reported cases. 20% of rape victims don’t even report their rapes because they fear retaliation. 13% don’t report them because they fear police won’t do anything to help.
The truth of matter is this: in the black community, when faced with talk of rape and rape culture, specifically in regards to the brutalization of women, men sound suspiciously the way white people do when faced with talk of anti-black police brutality. Men will instantaneously deny there was any validity to the victim’s side of the story by saying things like “Women lie to trap men all the time” or “How do we even know she was really raped?”. Which sounds suspiciously like the things white people say to absolve police overreach: “The police officer feared for his life”. “We don’t know what happened before the video started”. Men deflect from the actual injustice by trying to make it about a bigger picture issue that really has nothing to do with the one at hand i.e. when Bill Cosby’s accusers came forward many would say things like “They’re just trying to take Bill Cosby’s legacy away because they don’t want the black community to have role models” instead of just acknowledging that black “role models”are actually capable of doing terrible things that they deserve to pay for. This is extremely reminiscent of the way white people deflect by saying things like “Black people kill other black people everyday. How can you expect police to respect you when there’s so much Black on Black crime?” And men defend the oppressor and pile all of the blame on the oppressed with questions like “Well what was she wearing?”. “How much did she have to drink that night?”. In the same way that white people love to ask “Well why did he run if he was innocent?” “Why was he selling cds there in the first place?”.
They justify their dismissiveness by saying they value the black man and just don’t want to see him defamed not realizing they do so at the expense of the black woman, while we black women continue to ride just as hard for them as we do for ourselves. It was three black women who created the Black Lives Matter movement after all.
People can be talented and produce objectively amazing things and still be terrible individuals who deserve to be held accountable for their actions.The real life cyclical narrative of perpetrators of rape committing this heinous crime then getting to go on living well adjusted and even successful lives with no regard for how their victims suffer continues to play out in the lonely cinema of America over and over again. Nate Parker gets to create a critically acclaimed Oscar baiting ass movie and his alleged victim gets to commit suicide in 2012. I haven’t seen Birth of a Nation and I more than likely never will.