The Birth of a Nation

The $17.5 million that Fox Searchlight paid for The Birth of a Nation was the single biggest deal in Sundance history. So of course the distributor has huge plans for the movie — including, it appears, a bid for next year’s awards race. Fox Searchlight has just announced a fall 2016 release date for Nate Parker‘s slave drama, which lit up this year’s Sundance Film Festival. 

TheWrap reports The Birth of a Nation will open nationwide on October 7, 2016. Other films set for that weekend Tate Taylor’s literary adaptation The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt and Rebecca Ferguson; and Gavin O’Connor’s thriller The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck. (The X-Men spinoff Gambit is also currently dated for October 7, but given its behind-the-scenes struggles we expect it’ll be delayed before we get there.)

The Birth of a Nation stars Parker as Nat Turner, the slave who led a rebellion in pre-Civil War Virginia. The film chronicles Nat’s life from childhood to his early death, showing us how an earnestly devout preacher came to spark the bloodiest slave rebellion in American history. The solid supporting cast includes Armie Hammer as Nat’s master and Aja Naomi King as Nat’s wife.

Parker put his acting career on hold to write and direct The Birth of a Nation — his first time helming a full-length feature — and his work has paid off handsomely. The Birth of a Nation was one of the buzziest titles at this year’s Sundance, and took home the Grand Jury prize at the end of the fest. I was one of many critics who saw and loved the film at Sundance; here’s an excerpt from my review:

Comparisons to 12 Years a Slave will be inevitable, but in truth Birth of a Nation complements, rather than competes with, the other recent slave drama. 12 Years a Slave was the horrifying true tale of a free man forced into slavery. Birth of a Nation is the equally horrifying, equally true tale of a man who’s never enjoyed a single day of freedom in his life. To Nat, bondage isn’t a shocking turn of events; it’s simply his life as it always was and always will be. In that sense, it’s actually a bit like Spotlight, another recent story of insiders gradually coming to realize their own complacency in the face of unspeakable horrors, and deciding to do something about it.

We’re still a year out from next year’s Oscars, so it’s far too early to say whether The Birth of a Nation will end up being a serious contender in the 2017 awards race. We’ve seen lots of films dominate the conversation at Sundance, only to fizzle when they actually hit theaters. (Remember how Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was supposed to be last year’s breakout hit?) But at the very least, it looks like Fox Searchlight is hoping to get The Birth of a Nation into the conversation.

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