At the time of writing, BOAN (an acronym for Birth of a Nation) is trending. Not because of the film itself. Or even directly because of the controversy surrounding Nate Parker — its star, director, executive producer, and head writer.
But because it performed below most expectations, which is being blamed on Black women collectively — Black feminists, particularly — whose criticism of Parker both dampened enthusiasm for supporting the movie and may have even influenced how it was critically received.
Which is both true and bullshit. Bullshit marinated in a "y'all got to be the dumbest motherfucka who ever lived" rub and dipped in a "shut the fuck up" pate. And both the truth behind and the abject bullshit attached to this claim can by synopsized by a back and forth between TVOne's Roland Martin and The Root's Yesha Callahan Monday about a piece Callahan wrote about BOAN's opening weekend.
The historically inaccurate biopic about Nat Turner failed to bring in the big numbers that Fox Searchlight was expecting after the company paid $17,000,000 to distribute the film. The movie, which opened over the weekend, only took in an estimated $7.1 million and came in 6th place. Could it be that the low numbers were due to the controversy surrounding Parker’s rape allegations from 1999? Possibly so. It seems as though Parker became a liability for his own movie. No matter how many interviews he did, not only did he come off arrogant and rude, but also lacked remorse when discussing that night in 1999. Even his own co-stars couldn’t save the movie. Gabrielle Union, a rape survivor, penned a poignant post about her own sexual assault, but urged others to see the movie.
When the reviews came rolling in about the film, it was hard to find a positive one. From the historical inaccuracies, to the role black women played in the movie, it was true to some that it was a flawed endeavor.
Now, it is very clear from this write up that Yesha wasn't particularly unhappy that BOAN underwhelmed. But there's nothing she said here that's even remotely untrue.
It was panned for being historically inaccurate — and with historical inaccuracies that were unnecessary and egregious. Considering the money Fox Searchlight put up for BOAN and put into promoting it, they surely did expect a better weekend. Not Avatar or Jurassic Park numbers, of course, but better than $7.1 million. The spotlight on and discussion about Parker's 17-year-old rape allegations definitely didn't help matters. And, when people — including Gabrielle Union and Oprah (Oprah!!!!!) — tried to help him out, his series of increasingly tone deaf interviews weren't just train wrecks. They were train wrecks that grew sentient and searched for new trains and fresh tracks to crash again. It was train wreck bukkake. And most of the reviews from professional critics at national platforms (The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, RogerEbert.com, etc) found it to be fair to middling. Not a terrible movie. But definitely not something worthy of any type of award recognition.
Again, no lies told here. But that didn't stop Roland Martin from chiming in.
First he claimed that the piece was filled with a "litany of inaccuracies."
Then he cited Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo as proof that the movie was received well.
Is it technically true that you'll find more positive reviews of BOAN on Rotten Tomatoes than negative ones? Yes. But this is where nuance matters. If you filter for the top critics and actually read those reviews, even most of the ones who gave it a positive rating gave it with caveats. For a movie that was initially spoken of and promoted as a tour de force, a definite Oscar contender, a B-minus review is not a good one.
Of course, he didn't stop there. He called Yesha out by name, and then tweeted at her boss, The Root managing editor Danielle Belton.
Now, did Yesha take a couple personal and unprofessional shots at Martin? Yes, she did. But he came at her first — basically calling her a liar and a shitty writer on his platform of 416,000 followers — for the crime of writing the exact same thing that 47433474 different outlets published Monday.
Don't believe me? The very first page of results of googling "birth of a nation box office" shows the following:
From The New York Times: The Birth of a Nation' Struggles at the Box Office
From Jezebel: The Birth of a Nation Kinda Bombed at the Box Office
From The Wall Street Journal: Birth of a Nation' Flops Badly, Opening in Sixth Place at Box Office
From Vanity Fair: The Birth of a Nation Flops Hard at Box Office
From Forbes: Box Office: Why 'Birth Of A Nation' Was Doomed
But instead of going at these other mainstream (read: White) outlets, Ascot Jesus decided to go at Yesha and then included Yesha's boss in an attempt to get her reprimanded. Perhaps even demoted or fired. And if that happened to me, I'd get personal and unprofessional too.
A larger form of this type of scapegoating is happening on the Internet this week. Which should be no surprise, because it happens every time something produced, created by, or featuring a Black male doesn't get the support it was anticipating. Its the Black woman's fault. Even if 60% of Birth of a Nation's audience last weekend were Black women, it's Black women angry at Parker for being accused of raping a woman (and having a White wife) who's to blame for it torpedoing. Not the underwhelming reviews from the critics people actually pay attention to. Or Parker's aggressive unlikeability. Or people (and by "people" I mean "Black men") refusing to have higher standards of acceptable and laudable behavior for Black men. Or the fact that maybe the movie just wasn't that good.
Nope. It's Black women's fault for BOAN tanking. Which now means no one will ever know Nat Turner's story. And also that no Black movies will ever get made again. Drats.