“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Thomas Jefferson
I’ve been excited about this movie since it premiered at Sundance and received a record shattering deal from Fox searchlight. Unlike Cathleen, I have no recollection of learning about Nat Turner as a student. If I am honest, it wasn’t until I was in my 5th year of teaching history that Nat Turner ever hit my radar.
I mean, I had heard of him, of course, but like, I heard of him. Like this guy named Nat Turner did something, once, in history.
But as I’ve been researching about the African experience in Latin America for HHM, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn of all the stories of resistance. I’ve been exhilarated to learn of them and also deeply saddened at the realization, that for us, resistance stories are not apart of our educational experience.
Cue: The story of Nat Turner; Birth of a Nation 2016.
“I kind of sold this project to investors and cast on legacy. I honestly think this is a film that could start a conversation that can promote healing and systemic change in our country. There’s so many things that are happening right now in 2015—100 years after the original Birth of a Nation film, here we are. I’d say that is what I hope sets my film apart, is that it’s relevant now—that people will talk about this film with the specific intention of change.” Nate Parker
As with all of the stories that speak to the original sin of America, there are many parts of this film that are uncomfortable to sit through. On more than one occasion, I had to close my eyes in order to save my heart from seeing things that I know will emotionally scar me. But, what I know, is that we have to brave enough to relive our tortured past in order to secure our children, a more prosperous future.
And therein lies the rub, the process of decentering whiteness and decolonizing education requires us to face the realities of our experience in this country, and the diasporic experience around the world. And what Birth of Nation does is to remind us that resistance is enough, it is not futile and even though the chances of success may be slim, our ancestors beckon us to resist.
So how do we use this film and the narrative surrounding Nat Turner’s Rebellion in the classroom?
I personally left the film feeling ready to meet the systemic challenges that our students face but I know everyone won’t and I know young people may not. But Parker has made it very clear that his hope, in writing, producing and starring in this film was to inspire the youth.
“This movie was made to galvanize us all, to shock us into action–that is what’s necessary. We are in a time of crisis. And it’s all hands on deck. Every single one of us must stand in our power and do something, and watching this movie–especially the ending of it–the movement that Nat Turner has started has continued into today. Watching this movie makes you wanna get up, stand up for something and go outside and have the conversation.”
There are several factors that go into how you will use Birth of a Nation or The Nat Turner story in your classroom:
- Is your school environment focused on social justice and positive racial identity development through education?
- Are your colleagues on the same page with you or will you be the odd ball out?
- Are your parents partners in the decolonizing education of their children?
- And on the gangsta scale, how gangsta are you? Are you a small “g” big “G” or an “OG”?
Yall, have had me ask you this before, when we talked about celebrating Indigenous People’s Day.
For my small “g’s,” we feel you, and we suggest you craft a unit on heroes and include Nat Turner.
If you’re a big “G” in an environment supportive of big “G’s” then gather with your colleagues and you take your students to see the film. Have the students analyze the way the film can help model a way for us to resist systemic racism presently.
Now if you’re an “OG,” have your students investigate other resistance stories and dissect why these stories of successful and supposedly “unsuccessful” resistance stories aren’t taught in school. You may even have them analyze if there is such a thing as an unsuccessful resistance. Was Nat Turner successful in his “failure”?
For me, as a former world history teacher, I’ve been daydreaming about all the ways I would use this film. My reoccurring thought, is that it would be the opening film for my unit on political revolutions. This film would lead us into the unit dissecting the causes of the Haitian, Mexican, French and American revolutions.
As an American History teacher, I can think of so many ways I would use this film. I might even use it as the starting point to dissect the Constitution. Honestly, this film also does a damning job of prosecuting Christianity and the ways it was used to support slavery. So I could see me toying with the idea of using the film to introduce the ways religion has lead to the destruction of people; possibly comparing slavery and the crusades
…I mean, yall know I’m an OG.
Whatever you do and whatever you come up with, remember that the CREAD Commandments require that we be risk takers. So take the risk, watch the film, and craft a plan to use it in your classroom.
And as always,
Deep thinkers only!