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Nat Turner—Birth of a new movement?

David Goodson | 10/6/2016, 6:03 p.m.
While it’s usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving, on the surface, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, looks to give new ...
"The Birth of a Nation"

While it’s usually reserved for the day after Thanksgiving, on the surface, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, looks to give new meaning to Black Friday. Two thought-provoking, soul-stirring films are to be unveiled to the public that day, with the objective being to spark real dialogue through untold, ugly truths.

The first of these projects is the Nate Parker-helmed highly anticipated “The Birth of a Nation.” The second came with little fanfare. It was announced in July that the film, a documentary at that, would open the prestigious New York Film Festival, held this past week. Until then, it was pretty much a covert operation. That’s a testament to the fact that Ava DuVernay is on a roll, and her latest work, “13th,” gives notice once more that we as African-Americans needn’t worry about cultural misrepresentation when she’s at the helm.

The title of the film “13th” is derived from the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States ...”—and how that clause has evolved into a penal system that produces the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with guess who leading the prison population rate. As a follow-up to her Oscar-nominated “Selma,” the project came at a cost.

“I’ll be honest doing ‘Selma’ and this project back to back was problematic,” said DuVernay. “It takes an emotional toll to tell a crew to keep, spit, punch or shoot people, or to look through a thousand hours of racist violent footage and trying to weed out what to keep, and how much to share. I can’t leave those images with a smile. I take them with me, so it might be a while before I do a project like this again.”

Despite her challenges, the execution, subject matter and timing are all impeccable, especially with the presidential election weeks away. In fact, she shared that up until the release of the film she’d been working, stopping 10 days before this interview. But it wasn’t by grand design.

“I started to make the film right after ‘Selma,’” DuVernay said, “We thought it could be done in one year, but it ended up being two. As we got closer to the election we tightened the screws, trying to at least get it out for the election, but it wasn’t in the cards. I think what’s interesting in the doc is that the way in which they appear is not in the context of presidential candidates, but the context of figures that have touched this issue during their time in the public eye, with Trump calling for the death penalty of Black and Brown boys in the Central Park 5 case and Mrs. Clinton talking about super predators and supporting her husband’s 1994 crime bill. I tried to update where they are currently and we were tempted to add a debate type convo in there but we wanted it to be evergreen and last way past November.”