Tricky Goal for ‘Birth of a Nation’: Inspire but Don’t Incite

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tags: Nat Turner, birth of a nation, Nate Parker



The coming film “The Birth of a Nation,” which recounts a violent 1831 slave rebellion and includes scenes that evoke present-day outrage over fatal police shootings of black men, has been marketed as an urgent call to action.

In publicity materials, Nate Parker, the film’s director, writer, producer and star, says audiences should leave theaters asking, “When injustice knocks at our own front door, are we going to counter it with everything we have?” The distributor of the historical drama, Fox Searchlight, has promoted it with provocative posters depicting Mr. Parker’s character with his head in a noose made from an American flag and with trailers that feature Andra Day’s stirring rhythm-and-blues song “Rise Up.”

But when “The Birth of a Nation” arrives in roughly 2,000 theaters on Friday, Fox Searchlight is hoping that a parallel and largely invisible marketing effort — one intended to contain and frame Mr. Parker’s message — will ease the film into communities already on edge. As the nation struggles to deal with the issue of race after a number of episodes in which unarmed black men have been killed by the police, prompting protests in cities across the country, the studio wants “The Birth of a Nation” to inspire but not incite.




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