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Stop Blaming Black Women for ‘Birth of a Nation’s’ Low Opening

[Opinion] Nate Parker’s film was hampered by the director’s past controversy, but somehow Black women are to blame? Nah

by LaSha, October 13, 2016

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Since August, I’ve written about Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation twice. The first time was to reconcile my own feelings over wanting to see the story of a revolutionary, but being unwilling to ignore the rape allegations against the director. The second time was a response to the to the movie’s — or perhaps Nate Parker’s — ardent supporters who insisted that Black people had a duty to support it, lest their commitment to Black people be questioned. After more than two months of debate, if I never hear “Birth of a Nation” again, it’ll be too soon. Apparently, though, that wish to stop hearing about the movie and the surrounding controversy won’t be fulfilled anytime soon.

As widely reported, Birth opened at a disappointing sixth place, raking in just $7 million over its opening weekend. In what has become typical fashion, Black women alone were blamed almost immediately for the film’s flop–despite women making up 60 percent of its viewers.  One writer explicitly pinned the lackluster box office receipts on “the unrepentant pettiness of Black feminists.”



Even famed journalist Roland Martin, joined in on the blame game. In a series of tweets, the News One Now host lambasted The Root’s Yesha Callahan for a piece she wrote about the film’s unimpressive opening, saying the piece was “riddle with falsehoods” and disputing Callahan’s claim that the film was a flop. Martin even tweeted Callahan directly, questioning her credibility and skill as a journalist, claiming to have challenged her “several times before to step up her journalistic game,” and urging her boss to “pull Yesha aside” and “teach her to report a lot better.”

Martin didn’t stop there, though. He went on to tweet that he was sick and tired of Black women on his timeline who refused to support Birth because Parker’s wife is white. He later clarified that he was fine with sisters not supporting the film because of the rape allegations, but not because the director’s wife is white.

With studies finding that an estimated 60% of Black women having been sexually assaulted, the idea that Black woman would boycott the film over rape the allegation seems much more credible than claims–based on nothing more than the claimant’s own anecdotal evidence and perception–that the boycott is actually a way to punish a Black man for being in an interracial relationship. Perhaps if the information of the rape accusations and subsequent trial had never surfaced, or rather, if the events that prompted the accusations had never occurred, then the latter reasoning would hold weight. But with legitimate concerns well-documented, the obdurate insistence that Black women waged a campaign to ensure Birth tanked to repay Parker’s betrayal for the cardinal sin of marrying a white woman is nothing more than another excuse to engage in misogynoir.

This tendency to always find the Black woman at least partially at fault has to stop. Whether one believes Parker is guilty of rape or not, one thing is certain: The Black women being blamed for his movie not living up to the hype surely aren’t. The request for Black women’s unfaltering loyalty to Black men, even as we fall victim to those same men, has been honored for centuries, so much so that it has morphed into a demand. Black women do not owe blind support to anyone.

And despite negative review after negative review after negative review of this movie by critics across race and gender lines, somehow Black women are still the only reason the movie did not meet expectations. This is the same reasoning that partially blames Black girls for their sexual assault because they’re “too fast” or too grown.” It’s the same thinking that virtually pardons Black men for abandoning their children while blaming the Black women who stay and raise them for being single mothers. It’s the same logic that would cause Martin’s supporters to call for Yesha Callahan’s termination because she dared respond to repeated petty personal attacks in kind.

If this movie is as important as its proponents insist, I fail to see why so many have opted to weaponize their fingers and social media followings to engage in personal attacks on opponents rather than focusing solely on using their platforms to promote discussions of Birth’s cultural significance. Any hope for dignified discourse has been all but lost in the childish insults and finger pointing. And still in all of this, despite doing nothing more than exercising our right to abstain from supporting whomever or whatever disagrees with our personal values, Black women are the ones being critically examined.

Surely if the argument is that Turner’s story is vital to inspiring Black people to continue the fight for our collective liberation from oppression, making Black women the scapegoat for every failure won’t strengthen that. That practice of naming Black women the culprits because we are always the safest targets for abuse and neglect is a hallmark of the white supremacy Turner fought. 

So find another punching bag. Black women are worn thin.





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