Hal Holbrook, Veteran Actor Who Played Lincoln, Defends Nate Parker

“Are we being particular here with this extraordinary film because it’s about the racist curse we are struggling to erase?” Holbrook asked in The New York Times

Last Updated: October 15, 2016 @ 7:02 PM

Hal Holbrook, the veteran actor who became known for portraying Abraham Lincoln in a number of television events, came to the defense of Nate Parker and his film “The Birth of a Nation” in a letter to the editor of The New York Times on Friday.

The conversation surrounding Parker’s 1999 rape allegations stirred public opinion and, apparently, has affected box office sales.

Holbrook, the 91-year-old actor who played Lincoln in the miniseries “North and South” (books I and II) and “Lincoln,” a miniseries that ran 1974-1976, told The New York Times that people, basically, need to get over it and see Parker’s “fine work.”

Here’s Holbrook’s letter in full:

To the Editor:

Re ” ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Flops at Box Office Despite Raves” (Arts pages, Oct. 10):

I am finding it hard to accept the apparent rebuff at the box office of “The Birth of a Nation,” particularly after seeing the film last weekend. It is an exceptional piece of artistry and a vital portrait of our American experience in trying to live up to ideals we say we have. No one should miss it — no one who respects our country and its long struggle to define itself.

I am sorry about the conflict with Nate Parker’s past, but let’s try for some honesty here. “Rosemary’s Baby,” as I recall, had a similar tag on its director. It did well. If you want to make a list of the directors and actors who have rather public indiscretions, and who have in some cases been acquitted of them, start counting.

What troubles me is this: Are we being particular here with this extraordinary film because it’s about the racist curse we are struggling to erase from our country and its director is black? The curse is there. Go look at it. Do we have the courage to do that? It’s a fine work.


Beverly Hills, CA

When word of Parker’s 1999 rape allegations resurfaced, legions of people took to social media to express their opinions.

The discussion became two-pronged — do we support the breakout work of a black director’s (during a time when there are so few prominent black filmmakers) or do we boycott the film in protest of the normalization of rape culture and the violence against black bodies?

Parker has, like many others, consistently taken the stance that the focus of the media should be on “The Birth of a Nation” and its powerful message rather than a 17-year-old incident for which he was acquitted of criminal charges.