The Birth of a Nation: Nate Parker's slave drama gets standing ovation at Sundance Film Festival, early Oscar buzz

'I made this film for one reason, with the hope of creating change agents'

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The Independent Culture

This year’s Sundance Film Festival has already screened some quite remarkable projects, but none have had the same impact as Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation.

The film tells the tale of Nat Turner (played by Parker), an African-American slave who led a rebellion in the 1800s in Virginia.

Starring alongside the actor/director/all-star wrestler are Arnie Hammer (Man from U.N.C.L.E), Aja Naomi King (How to Get Away with Murder) and Jackie Earle Harley (Watchmen). 

Parker, who greeted a waiting audience at the Eccles Theatre, was met with a standing ovation as he took to the stage, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Then, two hours later, they were up on their feet again, clapping until the credits had finished rolling.

"I made this film for one reason, with the hope of creating change agents,” he told the crowd. “That people can watch this film and be affected. That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us.

“I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, 'Are there systems in my life that need attention whether it be racial, gender?' There are a lot of injustices.”

Parker's The Birth of a Nation is in stark contrast to the original 1916 film of the same name and based on similar events. That project, which has been deemed as one of the most racist film's of all time, has been credited with helping spur on a second wave of KKK groups with members showing the film to new recruits.

This iteration of the story follows Turner from a young age, born into slavery, as he grows up to become a preacher and lead a slave rebellion.

When asked about playing the lead role, Parker revealed the pains of playing the incarcerated character: "It sucked, it was not fun. There were definitely days when Nate had to stop what we were doing and remind us why we were all here because everybody felt the emotional burden of it. But at the same time it was a story that needs to be told.”

Already, the new film has created quite the buzz, with many thinking it could be an early Oscar contender, following in the footsteps of the equally challenging 12 Years a Slave.

The Academy has come under criticism for a second year in a row over diversity. Various famous actors have waded into the discussion, with many appalled that not a single non-white actor was nominated in one of the main catagories.

The Birth of a Nation is currently seeking distribution at the festival.