‘Birth of a Nation’ – Nate Parker, Aja Naomi King Interview

Aja Naomi King and Nate Parker CinemaCon 2016
Aja Naomi King and Nate Parker at the 2016 CinemaCon (Photo by Rebecca Murray)

The Birth of a Nation trailer earned loud, sustained applause from the National Association of Theatre Owners members in attendance at the 2016 CinemaCon in Vegas, and the film’s writer, director, and star Nate Parker was recognized with the Breakthrough Director of the Year award from the group. The dramatic, Sundance award-winning film will be released by Fox Searchlight in October and has already generated Oscar buzz for the first-time feature film director. And prior to taking the stage at CinemaCon’s Big Screen Achievement Awards, Parker and actress Aja Naomi King (‘Cherry’) spoke about the film and the awards talk during a small press conference.

I asked the multi-hyphenate Parker if he ever felt as though there was a time during the 27 day shoot when he wasn’t sure he could get it done. “No, and if I did feel that way I would never let anyone know,” said Parker, laughing. “The important thing with being a director is everyone looks to you for everything. They say the fish swims from the head and so every day I had to be the one who walked the fastest, that smiled the hardest, that was willing to sweat. I wore a suit on the days when I wasn’t in costume and when it was especially hot I wore a wool vest just so everyone knew that I had skin in the game. It worked. I felt like my team was always with me and I never felt like there was a hierarchy. I tried my best to make everyone feel like their opinion was important. To get through those 27 days when the schedule called for 38 initially, the only way was for everyone to work to their capacity. And, the only way people do that is if they feel appreciated.”

Asked why there seem to be quite a few films and TV shows about slavery recently, Parker said he wouldn’t classify them as “about slavery.” “I’d say that people in 2016 are more open to the truth about who we are and what our identity is. So, we can tell those stories in a way that’s unapologetic without feeling like they’re polarizing or they’re making people uncomfortable. I don’t think my film is a film about slavery. I think it’s a film about healing and liberation and resistance being an option,” explained Parker.

In response to my question as to what it was about Cherry that she latched onto, Aja Naomi King replied, “What I loved about this character was the first time we see her she looks so beaten upon and what I loved was in Nat wanting to help her it wasn’t out of some kind of attraction. It was this idea that he could no longer be complicit in the furthering of someone else’s destruction. That kind of love, that kind of desire to help human kind, it really spoke to me. With Cherry, she herself has so much fight in her and I think that’s what connects these two characters. With her dying breath she will not be subjugated. She will not submit and that is what makes them such fiery, animated people. I think that’s what connects them in their souls. I really loved that about these two people.”

Watch the full interview with Nate Parker and Aja Naomi King: