Historian Calls Nate Parker’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ an ‘Epic Fail’

An Ohio State University professor says that the film contains multiple historical inaccuracies

birth of a nation nate parker
Getty Images

Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” has been criticized by an African American and African Studies professor at Ohio State University, who calls it an “epic fail” — not because of the director’s rape controversy (for which he was acquitted) but in spite of it.

In historian Leslie M. Alexander’s review on The Nation, she said that Parker’s film is filled with historical inaccuracies. Its biggest mistake, however she claims, is the portrayal of Nat Turner’s wife being gang raped by slave patrollers — which Alexander says never happened.

“There is not a shred of historical evidence to suggest that Cherry [Turner] was ever raped by slave patrollers, nor is there any evidence to indicate that an attack on his wife inspired Turner to rebel,” Alexander wrote. “By all accounts, Turner took up arms against slavery because he believed slavery was morally wrong and violated the law of God.”

The professor, who teaches classes on slavery, resistance movements and historical accuracies in film, said that this fact was important “because it demonstrates that black people not only fought against slavery because of its extreme violence and brutality, but also because they knew in their hearts that slavery was an unjust, exploitative system that violated moral laws.”

“The Birth of a Nation” director did admit that no film is one hundred percent historically accurate, including his, in a “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper. When asked by Cooper if he was ready for criticism, Parker replied: “”Look, the film isn’t 100 percent historically accurate.”

Alexander notes that not only is this part of the movie historically erroneous, it comes at the expense of black women. The professor said that practically every woman in Turner’s life is depicted as “passive victims” and needing black male protection.

Enslaved women fought for their dignity and freedom, and they exercised agency over their lives, in spite of unimaginable horrors,” Alexander said. “This is the story that deserves to be told, not one that disseminates archaic and damaging myths that cast black men as courageous saviors and black women as helpless victims.”

Parker and his co-author Jean Celestin were both accused of rape in 1999, and the two were eventually acquitted. Alexander said she would let her readers come to their own conclusion as to why the two would choose to fabricate a rape story as the motivation for Turner’s rebellion.

“The Birth of a Nation” opened Oct. 7.