Fox Searchlight Pictures has landed a record-busting $17.5 million deal for the rights to distribute black filmmaker, writer, and producer Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, a biopic about Nat Turner, the former slave who led a 48-hour bloody slave rebellion over his white masters in 1831.
Parker’s Birth of a Nation–which co-opts the name of D.W. Griffith’s controversial 1915 epic silent film that depicts the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force–was in the midst of a high profile bidding war before making its standing ovation-inducing debut Monday at the Sundance Film Festival.
The bidding came down to The Weinstein Company, Sony, and Netflix — with the streaming service reportedly offered $20 million for the film.
Birth of a Nation “had audience members crying in their seats and jumping to their feet in a prolonged standing ovation at the film’s conclusion,” according to one critic writing at Deadline.
Fox Searchlight’s acquisition of the critically acclaimed revenge film comes, ironically, at a time when Hollywood is grappling with the controversy over the lack of minority nominees at this year’s Oscars.
However, it’s worth noting that Fox Searchlight’s motivation to pick up Birth of a Nation may have had little to do with the recent racial strife.
Fox Searchlight Pictures successfully distributed 12 Years A Slave–the last film, ironically, to land an Academy Award in the hands of a black lead–to much larger audiences in the U.S. The film firm also sold such award winning films like The Full Monty and Birdman to a much larger number of multiplexes than it was expected to show in.
In other words, Fox Searchlight specializes in or has experience with placing racially-charged small budget films in mass market positions.
But that historical inoculation won’t save the film studio or Hollywood from the accusation that Birth of a Nation is the first of many victories in Tinseltown’s attempt to repair the damage done to its image as a racial progressive paradise.
After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, high profile filmmakers, many of them voting members of the much-maligned Academy, must be delighted to latch onto a timely black-people-rise-up-against-their-racist-white-oppressors film from a promising, up-and-coming moviemaker of color.
Birth of a Nation stars Nate Parker as Nat Turner. Armie Hammer and Aja Naomi King co-star alongside Jackie Earle Haley and Jayson Warner Smith.