Yesterday Nate Parker landed a record-breaking deal for his film, The Birth of a Nation, at Sundance, which also turned out to be the biggest sale of a complete film at any film festival, ever. Now, some details of the bidding war are coming out. It came down to Netflix and Fox Searchlight, and Netflix made a $20 million bid, making them the top bidder. But they wanted to repeat the day-and-date streaming strategy they used with Beasts of No Nation, so Parker turned them down in favor of Searchlight’s slightly smaller $17.5 million bid. He wants Nation to have a shot at wide theatrical release, and that’s not going to happen with Netflix. Theater owners hate and fear Netflix, so it’s hard for them to find theatrical partners to screen feature films. (Amazon is experiencing a similar issue with Manchester by the Sea.)
A lot of actors and filmmakers treat press and publicity as the unwanted burden of their profession, while some see it as a necessary evil. The smart ones, though, get that it’s just another facet of their performance. That doesn’t necessarily mean lying to the public, or fabricating an elaborate public persona, it just means treating publicity, a required element of the job, as an extension of the film itself. Some people are really good at this (see also: RDJ; Gyllenhaal, Jake), and Parker seems like he gets it, too. What I get from him is that he sees the film’s release as a stage, and he wants a big one, to ensure his message has the strongest impact possible. He’s been very on point at Sundance—he knows what he wants to say, how he wants to say it, and who he wants to say it to. I look forward to seeing Nation, but I also look forward to watching Parker field the press. He’s coming ready to play.
Also, Penelope Ann Miller stars alongside Parker in Nation. She was too was quoted in The Hollywood Reporter last week, saying, “I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren’t nominated. But to imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don’t want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I’m certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business.”
Sure, no one wants to be part of the problem (see also: Colin Trevorrow’s comments regarding female filmmakers). But while Miller herself may not be racist—or any single member of the Academy—she belongs to an organization that has a problem, a big one. She goes on to say, “I loved Beasts of No Nation, and I loved Idris Elba in it—I just think not enough people saw it, and that’s sometimes what happens. Straight Outta Compton was a great film; I think it just lost some Academy members who are older.” THAT is the problem. There is a swath of the Academy—mostly but not necessarily entirely old and white—that just do not see films like Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton.
Any one single person voting for Idris Elba isn’t cutting it. It takes concerted effort by the whole to make sure every film is getting an equal platform, and the entire problem is that every film is NOT getting an equal platform. The Academy has a problem, and the members, including Miller and every other person who has said some variation of, “We’re not racist, we like Idris Elba!” over the last couple weeks, made no real attempt to fix it from within.
So now it’s drastic measures time, because the Academy fancies itself as an arbiter of taste, and in order to maintain that, they actually have to reflect the culture which they are dictating. It’s going to be painful and no one will enjoy it. But they had years—decades—to do something about this, because they all saw it coming. This isn’t a new problem. And if Penelope Ann Miller feels hurt and mistreated by the whole thing, maybe she should consider for a moment the feelings of all the artists and performers who waited patiently for a moment that never came.