Finally, we have a story of rebellion that takes us beyond the slave narrative and shows the beginnings of the revolution of the African American. The Birth of A Nation is the story of Nat Turner played by actor and award-winning director Nate Parker, who is a literate slave preacher-turned-radical that endures the woes of slavery and reinterprets the Bible to be empowering, instead of a source of control.
Starting this weekend, audiences everywhere will have the opportunity to relive the slave tale from a different perspective. It is a story that sheds light on how Christian faith did not subdue slaves, but instead, it became a source of strength. We had the opportunity to view the pre-screening of this perfect retelling of the events leading up to this historic revolt and its haunting, gory imagery that depicts a reality of this undeniable time in history.
While viewing the film, some may spot some other similarities that Turner endures at the age of 31, so be prepared to cheer when he displays his God-given intellect and might. In the meantime, we would like to share some of the film’s most compelling themes with the uneducated, miseducated, and African American History enthusiasts that are prevalent both in the past and present below:
Using Scripture as a Source of Power
Historically, so much has been handed to black people for defeat and turned into a weapon of victory, including our faith.
In the film, the slave master’s wife discovers that Nat can read and takes it as a divine sign to mentor him in Scripture. As an adult, the owner uses Nat’s gift of preaching for profit while also using the sermons to subdue other slaves.
However, after taking a closer look and studying the Bible again, Turner realizes that the Scripture is being misused; so he chooses to use it as a source of power for the revolution.
The message we should all take from this is to read the Word and get to know God for yourself in order to prevent misinterpretation and enhance our sense of empowerment. The tale of false prophets is nothing new, so it is important that we are able to differentiate between a manipulated preacher and a vessel of God? The presentation of the Word will reveal the truth.
The Prayer Warrior, Not the Foot Soldier
What audiences will not see in this film is the majestic Black, female soldier that we have come to love in modern-day society. In fact, the women in this film are meek in comparison, however their strength comes in the form of prayer and support. This image may irritate some and make you wonder why the women are praying instead of picking up weapons and strategizing.
However, it is important to remember that the woman’s role during the days of American slavery was to sit back, observe and continue to be a constant support for the men in their lives.
As time went on, the revolutions to follow gave birth to many strong women who bore even stronger children and the victory continues amidst our battle on both the physical and spiritual battlefield.
“They’re killing people everywhere for no other reason at all but being black.”
This line in the film will make the audience shutter at the reality of the history and our present circumstances in the fight to show that Black lives do, in fact, matter. Although it is not meant to address the current movement, it is clear that the director, Parker, wanted to make the correlation.
The film shows what punishment looks like for the concept of freedom, and this same concept is something that Blacks pay for repeatedly despite their individual success and our community’s history of overcoming obstacles.
As a community, African Americans have greatly contributed to the evolution of the American landscape and some would argue that punishment is given as envious punishment. This same theme is carried throughout the film.
So Why See Yet Another Slave Film?
With films like Amistad, 12 Years A Slave and television series like “The Roots,” many of these stories are about surviving slavery and not the brutal fight to be free. Although the story is a carefully paced depiction of Nat Turner’s life, it pieces together the ancestral grit, new philosophy, and spiritual awakening that makes the oppressed ask, “When is enough is enough?”
We are living in a time where we are most certainly free and, somehow, still at war in an effort to show our worth. While it is not implied that we revolt in the form of violence against injustice, it is a reminder to stand up for our God-given right to be free and treated justly.
This week, Roots, the classic tale of slavery and survival, was revived and reimagined by the History Channel, and a new generation was empowered. Twitter erupted in animated commentary through the hashtags #RootsSyllabus, #KuntasKin, #Kizzy, #ChickenGeorge and #KuntaKinte. This year marks 40 years since the world was introduced to the original adaptation of Alex Haley’s best-selling novel, and many of the themes throughout this slave narrative continue to reflect some of the issues and values today in our community, including spirituality, tradition, values, and wisdom of a family of survivors. The four-part series showed us that regardless of our situation, it is absolutely imperative that we continue to persevere in mind, body, soul, and family. Below are several lessons that we, as a people, are able to take from this Alex Haley classic:
‘Your name is your spirit.’
The story of Kunta Kinte begins with his father, a Mandinka warrior, lifting him to the heavens to ask for his name, which was to be his purpose. This tradition was carried out generationally as a way to surrender the child to God (called Allah in the film) to allow them to become a vessel of purpose, which is similar to what we do today during a child’s baptism or dedication ceremony. Purpose gives life to another purpose and that purpose becomes legacy. This tradition is a foundation of spiritual fortitude that is to guide us through our lives and can be seen in Christianity and other faiths. However, the question for us all is “Are we named for our purpose and are we living it?”
We praise a God of all people.
What was interesting to see was the correlation between how the Black community is divided in spiritual beliefs back then and how it still rings true today. Some believe that Christianity was taught to Black people as a tool of control. Today, some look at Christianity in a degenerate way that made Black people meek, submissive, and unwilling to fight. Kizzy was most vocal about the faith with the statement ‘Jesus ain’t done nothing for Black people’. As time passed she and George’s wife Matilda, a Christian, were able to come to a mutual understanding of the spirit that recognized God.
Photo Courtesy of Twitter/RootsSeries
We are warriors.
Kunta Kinte was raised to be a warrior and every generation after became one almost by default of their spiritual connection. Kizzy was empowered by her father to be a warrior of the mind, body, and spirit. Although she fought for her freedom, she was ultimately still enslaved, but not in her mind. As our youth continue to be bullied by peers or police we have to continue to raise them to be warriors within the mind and spirit. This is a value well carried in the Black community, that has allowed us to overcome many things post slavery. But we must ask ourselves how can we help others who have lost their ‘warrior way’?
She’s hard-headed and I like her.
With the empowerment and simultaneous attack on Black women’s beauty, intelligence, fortitude, and accomplishments, there was such a wonderful representation of how we’ve always had success in our blood. Kizzy, the daughter of Kunta Kinte, embodied all of these qualities and took pride in it, which is what made her attractive. Even after giving birth to George as a result of being raped, she had the strength to love her son and raise him with the values she learned from her parents. The key element in all of this was the mutual respect between men and women for their strengths. When George wanted to marry Matilda, it is revealed that he was attracted to her stubbornness and strength, qualities similar to his mother Kizzy. That alone is a statement. This is a message to all Black women. It is your birthright to be amazing!
Photo Courtesy of Twitter/RootsSeries
‘We will not survive as enemies.’
Today, the Black community faces a crisis of crippling acts that is tearing us apart, including crime-induced, petty arguments, pride, greed. When Kunta is taken on to the slave ship there was a moment where many warriors from different tribes complained and argued until someone said ‘We will not survive as enemies.’ In the community today, we have people like Fiddler (Henry), who are able to ‘play by the rules’ and try to guide others out of their chained mindset. And there are other figures, like the tribe that sold the Mandinga warriors to the Europeans, who are driven by the aforementioned, crippling acts, without realizing that we are all on the same ship. When the slaves unified, regardless of their titles in their homeland, the ship’s power began to crumble. How have we not realized the value in being unified in the spirit?
Family is the root of wholeness.
Family is the nucleus of survival and spiritual connection throughout the entire series. There were many family dynamics that dictated how the various characters operated. Kunta and Belle were in love and had Kizzy which is comparable to a conventional family unit. On the other hand, George is the illegitimate child of the slave master Tom Lee, with whom he has a ‘weekend Dad’ relationship, which is strained when Lee treats him like a slave instead of a son. Eventually, when George and Tom repair their strained relationship, it can be compared to a situation when a father is absent for an extended period of time and eventually attempts to rebuild that relationship. What was seen in each of these situations was an unbreakable bond that allowed the evolution of the spirit and tradition. Despite any circumstance, the dedication to family is the root of wholeness back then and even more so now.
So what is Roots really about? It is about living in our spiritual purpose as we, as a community, walk through generational circumstances and evolve as a whole to honor our spiritual lineage.
Comment below with your connection to Roots.
The weekend has passed and it seems like every major news outlet has published an article (or three) about how Black clergy are responding to President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage. I’m tempted to refer them to Terry Mattingly’s GetReligion question from last Tuesday: “Do … editors realize how offended many African-American pastors are when told that they are important simply because of their political clout, and not their roles as pastors and community leaders?” Instead I’ll refer you to our own contributors’ reflections on the issue, before directing you to the onslaught.
America’s Black churches were “conflicted” about the president’s position at Sunday services, USA Today reported. “Some churches were silent on the issue. At others, pastors spoke against the president’s decision Wednesday — but kindly of the man himself. A few blasted the president and his decision. A minority spoke in favor of the decision and expressed understanding of the president’s change of heart,” the article said. How USA Today knows what all the nation’s Black churches said and did yesterday, I have no idea, but that’s what its reporters wrote.
Evolving or Not With the President
At CNN, the Reverend Kenneth L. Samuel said he “evolved” on the issue just as the president did, and cited a gay friend’s suicide as a factor. Conversely, the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant told the network that the Black church sees same-sex marriage as a “human rights” issue and cannot embrace “gay bashing” or “homophobia,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing same-sex unions.
In another article, Black liberation theologian James Cone said it is “unfortunate” that Black Christians oppose same-sex marriage. The Rev. Fred Robinson disagreed.
In a third CNN article, the Rev. Emmett Burns, “a politically well-connected black minister,” is quoted as saying he supported President Obama in 2008, but held a public event at his Baltimore church last week to withdrew that support. Likewise, the Rev. Beverly Brown told the Orlando Sentinel that she’s “trying to separate his personal view from his political view.” However, she said she’ll continue to support the president as long as his views stay personal and he doesn’t push for same-sex marriage to become legal everywhere.
Doing Damage Control
Perhaps anticipating this type of reaction, the president “gathered eight or so African-American ministers on a conference call to explain himself” about two hours after making his May 9 announcement, The New York Times reported.
Fighting Amongst Ourselves
Stating the obvious, The Times also reported that the fight over same-sex marriage is not simply sacred vs. secular. “Religion is on both sides in this conflict. The battle is actually church versus church, minister versus minister, and Scripture versus Scripture.”
Michael Coogan, a lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School compared the conflict to that which existed when slavery was debated. “The proslavery contingent quoted the Bible repeatedly, saying that God has all these commandments about slavery and nowhere in the Bible, including the New Testament, is it stated that there’s anything wrong with slavery,” Coogan said. “The abolitionists also quoted the Bible, but used the same sort of more general texts that supporters of same-sex relationships are using: love your neighbor, treat others as you would have them treat you, the golden rule.”
Homosexuality Historical ‘Non-Issue’ for Black Christians
Some might be surprised to read that homosexuality was a “non-issue” in Black churches until the 2004 presidential election, according to the Rev. Madison T. Shockley II. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Shockley said that’s when “anti-civil union and marriage equality laws were put on ballots in key states to draw ‘values voters’ to the polls” and “part of the Republican strategy was to have white evangelical leaders actively recruit black clergy to the anti-gay movement.”
Playing Politics With the ‘First Gay President’
Speaking of political maneuvering, with a provocative cover photo of the president sporting a rainbow halo, Newsweek dubbed him the “first gay president” and said, “For once Democrats aren’t worried about the image that projects” because “demographics are on his side” and “the campaign has seen another week elapse where the Obama economy was not front and center.” That, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asserts, is the whole point of Obama’s “historic” announcement.
What do you think?
Are clergy and journalists playing the politicians’ game?