Gabrielle Union is one of the only people involved in Birth of a Nation that seems capable of speaking about the film and its attendant controversy with nuance and common sense. In a new interview with Essence, Union backtracks a little on her previous statements about the film and director Nate Parker’s ugly history.
Union’s voice has been one of reason despite navigating the tricky situation of wanting to promote her work in the face of controversy. The news of Parker’s rape trial surfaced after the film had wrapped, coinciding with the PR blitz ahead of the film’s tepid premiere.
As a sexual assault survivor herself, Union still felt that the film was important, hoping that the controversy surrounding it would lead to open and honest conversations about consent. “I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize,” she wrote earlier this year in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
Now, Union admits that she “understands” why many people are choosing to boycott the film. NBC News reports:
“As a rape survivor and as an advocate, I cannot shy away from this responsibility because the conversation got difficult.... I don’t want to put myself above anyone’s pain or triggers. Every victim or survivor, I believe you. I support you. I support you if you don’t want to see the film. I absolutely understand and respect that. I can’t sell the film.”
Promoting the film has been difficult for many of the female cast members, forced to grapple with Parker’s past. Indeed, as BuzzFeed News notes, most of the focus has been on Parker and not on the women in the film that existed to support his character’s role. Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Nat Turner’s mother, spoke on the burden many black women are expected to shoulder.
“There is a particular pain that black women feel that I don’t think black men understand and it’s a pain that comes from feeling like we do a lot of labor that we are not emotionally compensated for, or publicly compensated for or appreciated for.”
Like Union, Ellis also grappled with her role in the film’s promotion after Parker’s history came to light. But, in the end, she made the decision to promote the film because for her, the importance of Turner’s story still rings true.
“This is not about him. This is about Nat Turner. This is about this movie that I believe to this day could do so much good. I made a decision, and I said, ‘I am going to do my job of promoting this movie as much as I can because I believe in its power.’