The Oscars ceremony is mere days away, but it’s already time to start talking about next year’s awards. Hot on the heels of a record-breaking $17.5 million acquisition deal at the Sundance Film Festival, Fox Searchlight has set a prime, awards-friendly October 7th release date for The Birth of a Nation. Written, directed, produced by and starring Nate Parker, the drama tells the true story of slave Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher who was used to “calm” other slaves in neighboring plantations down via his sermons, and who subsequently led a bloody uprising that had reverberations throughout the country.
The October 7th release date puts the film directly against The Help director Tate Taylor’s bestseller adaptation The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson, as well as the Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick-fronted action-thriller The Accountant. But the release date has much more to do with awards positioning than it does with an explosive opening weekend—although that’s certainly possible too. Ahead of that October weekend, Fox Searchlight will no doubt take the movie around the fall film festival circuit, to some combination of Telluride, Venice, and Toronto, where it can build significant buzz ahead of its general release, after which the Oscar campaign will kick into high gear. This is the path taken by numerous films in the past, notably Best Picture-winner Argo, which opened on October 12th.
I caught The Birth of a Nation at Sundance and it is an undeniably passionate piece of work from first-time filmmaker Parker. It’s a bit messy structurally, and the supporting characters are lacking, but it touches on interesting ideas about Christianity and how it was used to justify the actions of both the slave owners and Turner’s rebellion. The film will no doubt stir plenty of conversations about our nation’s history and race relations in the country as Parker offers an unflinching portrait of slavery and repression that is told entirely from the slave’s point of view—there’s no kind white person here to act as an audience surrogate. You can read Matt’s full review right here.
So mark your calendars, folks. The biggest Sundance film in recent memory is headed your way in just eight short months. The Birth of a Nation also stars Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Jr, Colman Domingo, Aunjane Ellis, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Gabrielle Union.