Nat Turner’s historic slave revolt of 1831 is a story with layers far beyond those that have been explored in the history books. Now, the long-awaited Birth of A Nation film has brought that journey to the big screen.
ESSENCE Entertainment Director Cori Murray recently moderated a Q&A session at TIME, Inc. headquarters with two of the film’s stars, Aja Naomi King and Colman Domingo, who each spoke volumes about why this story is one that simply can’t go untold in Hollywood any longer. Speaking on all that she did to prepare for the multi-faceted role of her dynamic portrayal of Nat Turner’s wife Cherry, King became emotional while reflecting on what it was like to imagine being degraded to mere property and sold to the highest bidder as a slave.
“How horrible that that… happened. How horrible,” she said, fighting back tears. “Having to stand up on that stage and being in that environment — because it wasn’t a set, we were on a real plantation — that was as real as it could possibly get.”
The How To Get Away With Murder starlet was overwhelmed with empathy as she briefly discussed her own reality in contrast to that of young Black women during the slavery era.
“Just being met with that, everything in me that is who I am and the experiences I’ve had growing up was just like, ‘no, I don’t have to let this in, I don’t have to do this, I have choices, I have options, I can walk away.’ And so to think, ‘well, what if you didn’t have choices, what if you didn’t have options, what if you couldn’t walk away?’”
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Domingo, who plays Hark, the husband of Gabrielle Union’s character in the film, says the ultimate goal of the movie is to get people talking about the remarkable strength and resilience that has moved the Black community forward since the beginning of time.
“We know that [the absence of this storyline] has been a disastrous shortcoming in all of our history books as American history,” he said. “Like, why don’t we know ourselves? I think we know that that’s the key to empowering our communities with self-knowledge to know that you have that strength. I think with the film, we realized that how we move it forward is that hopefully we’ll inspire a sense of activism and agency so that people know who they are.”
Domingo is also hopeful that the movie will further ignite a spirit of purpose among today’s young people.
“The intention of this film is to get people to engage in dialogue. I think that the ultimate take away, is that this story goes into the hands of the youth for the youth to see themselves and look at their history and examine and interrogate and move it forward. Walk a little straighter, smile a little wider and believe that you have purpose in this world.”
Given the current state of unrest in the Black community as we continue to fight against social injustices like police brutality and mass incarceration, King says she dispels the notion that Black women don’t have the right to be angry.
“I always think — when I get mad and people say, ‘don’t be the angry Black woman’ — it’s like, well, why not? There’s so much to be angry about,” she said. “Especially thinking about the way things are today, why wouldn’t I be angry? A month ago, my sister and I were marching with Black Lives Matter and Chanel turns to me and says, ‘Can you believe our mother drank from a for colored water fountain and here we are. Still marching.’”
The Birth Of A Nation is in theaters now.