To all victims and survivors of sexual violence, I hate that you have been, once again, re-traumatized by the force of patriarchy. I see the many statuses, comments, blogs, and articles in my timeline, and I am reading and digesting them. I completely understand why you are now either conflicted, or clear, about whether or not you will support Nate Parker’s film The Birth of a Nation – a biopic about the Nat Turner led rebellion, that, by all accounts, brilliantly features resistance to racial oppression.
With a film premiere on the horizon about enslaved Africans who rebelled against an oppressive system run by white slave owners, I believe that Nate Parker and Jean Celestin can only redeem themselves as men by facing their own participation in the oppression of a woman’s body, head on. This must be done with openness, humility, honesty, contrition, and accountability. That’s work that all men who have participated in sexism and violence against women must do. And it has to be done with the sole intent and purpose of creating a space of universal healing after centuries of men’s abusive behavior. This cannot be done merely to further our own self-interests and promote our work. It has to be done in a genuine effort to end all violence against women and to institutionalize gender violence prevention education in schools everywhere. Men all over the world need to join a global conversation about what it means to be actors and passive bystanders in a global war on women’s bodies. This conversation requires work and the readiness to be educated and informed about rape culture. It must include self-reflection, integrity, remorse, allyship with girls and women, and a true commitment to change and evolve as men.
To the many women who were previously excited about seeing The Birth of a Nation but who are now torn about supporting the filmmakers, Parker and Celestin, I hear you.
So it’s perfectly understandable to me that so many woman who have experienced the pain, shame, stigma, guilt, and trauma that typically follows rape and sexual assault feel betrayed by Parker and Celestin. It’s reasonable that you now see these men, and The Birth of A Nation in a very different light. I am disappointed to learn more information about Nate Parker and Jean Celestin’s sexual assault and rape case, and that the victim has committed suicide. My hope is that not only will the movie, which includes two painful rape scenes, opens up honest conversations about this country’s history of slavery and institutional racism, but it will also open up honest conversations about the world’s history of sexism, sexual exploitation, gender violence, and the global dehumanization of all girls and women, including trans women. Ending rape and violence against women is a men’s issue, and we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Byron Hurt is a former college quarterback, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer, activist, and lecturer. His documentary films Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Soul Food Junkies are currently streaming online, free, this month at www.video.pbs.org. His website is www.bhurt.com. Find him on Twitter @byronhurt.