2016 is quickly becoming a year where you have to separate the artist from their art if you want to sit through a decent movie.
Case in point: Nate Parker. Earlier this year, the African-American actor showed off the biopic “The Birth of a Nation,” which he directs and stars as revolutionary slave Nat Turner, at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was greeted with near-unanimous praise and a $17.5 million deal from Fox Searchlight Pictures to distribute the film globally.
While the movie was slated for a fall release, people began to find out a bit more about its director/star. More specifically, we found out about the rape accusations he was on trial for when he was a Penn State student in 1999. It turns out that he and his “Birth” screenwriter Jean Celestin were accused of having sex with an intoxicated, 18-year-old, white college student without her consent. Although he was acquitted of the charges, the court transcripts that surfaced – which also includes a graphic, phone-call transcript between Parker and the alleged victim, who was trying to piece together what happened that night – made many have a different opinion on Parker. Not to mention that the accuser, who reportedly suffered from depression after the incident, later committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills in 2012.
This hasn’t made Parker look well in the public eye, especially after the public attempts he has made to say he was cleared of the charges. He was recently on “60 Minutes” where he said he doesn’t feel guilty about anything. “I was vindicated,” he said. “I was proven innocent, and I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. Her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is – no.”
It’s a shame that Parker couldn’t show a little bit of remorse for what happened. It might have helped his movie make more than $7 million last weekend – its opening weekend – landing right below “Storks.” It’s also a pity, because the movie is actually very good. It’s a rousing, cinematic rebel yell where Parker basically becomes the African-American equivalent of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace from “Braveheart.” (Believe it or not, Parker actually consulted with Gibson on properly shooting the climactic uprising at the Virginia armory.)
Speaking of Gibson, everybody’s favorite, disgraced, Oscar-winning movie star/director has somehow made a movie that will be released in November. Titled “Hacksaw Ridge,” it tells the true story of U.S. Army medic Desmond T. Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-day Adventist who refused to bear arms during World War II and saved numerous lives during battle. Call me crazy, but even though Gibson has proven himself to be an unhinged, racist, anti-Semitic rageaholic (do I need to bring up all those recorded phone messages between him and his baby momma?), I’m still looking forward to this movie. After all, no matter how you feel about him, Gibson has churned out some remarkable movies in the past. (Don’t tell me y’all weren’t feeling “Apocalypto” when you saw it?)
It’s always a quandary, isn’t it? Can you enjoy something that was made by someone who has previously exhibited some, shall we say, dirtbaggish qualities? Heck, Woody Allen has proven time and time again that people will still take in anything he does despite all those notorious, child-molestation accusations brought against him by his former significant other, Mia Farrow. Just this year alone, he’s been winning raves for his latest film, “Café Society,” and also has a new show on Amazon Prime, “Crisis in Six Scenes,” which stars him and Miley Cyrus.
Throughout time, bad men have created great work. Miles Davis was a known wife-beater (Frances Davis, his first wife, told The New York Times, “I actually left running for my life – more than once”), but you can’t deny he’s one of the most influential jazz artists of all time. Both filmmaker Sam Peckinpah and poet Charles Bukowski were depraved alcoholics, but they respectively churned out grisly, incendiary works of art. Marvin Gaye? He was a coked-up porn freak right up until his daddy shot him dead in 1984. But the man dropped some of the best R&B albums ever made.
Good people make good art, but bad people can also make good art. In order to appreciate that good art for yourself, you may have to distance the art from who made it in order to enjoy it.
Craig Lindsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org