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Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion Happened Today - Past And Future Films On The Historical Event

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act August 21, 2013 at 11:52AM

Today in history... August 21st, 1831, in Virginia, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion, hoping to inspire a slave uprising in the south. Several dozen whites are killed before the revolt is defeated. Turner is later capture, tried and hanged. 182 years later, many are still waiting for a definitive Nat Turner movie to be produced.Maybe the most notable is the hour-long documentary, Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, directed by Charles Burnett, and released in 2003, which played the festival circuit, and eventually aired on PBS about a year later. It's not the full-length, scripted, big screen biopic that many have been hoping for, so, it'll have to do for now.I did find out that there's an independently-made Nat Turner film in development, titled Nat Turner Unchained (likely a nod to Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained), written, produced and directed by Josh Harraway, who calls himself "The world's first Tupac impersonator."Upon first discovering the film, I thought it was maybe a spoof, parody, work of satire or something similar, given the title, the tagline, and the teaser I watched (embedded below); but it turns out it's a very real film.Xango Henry and Beckett Meyersfield are currently listed as cast members, with Xango apparently playing Nat Turner in the film.Director Harraway has even made the script available online for anyone who'd like to read it. If you're curious, you can download it HERE. I only just learned about the project so I obviously haven't had time to read the script and offer any commentary on it.But if the below teaser is anything to go by, I'm not sure how well the film will go over with audiences - even black audiences. Take a look at it for yourself. Harraway does say on the project's Facebook page that his film will be...:... the most viciously accurate rendition of the events surrounding the infamous Nat Turner slave revolt of 1831. No holds barred. Nothing whitewashed. Historically accurate far beyond anything William Styron's distorted imagination could ever have dreamed up.William Styron is of course, the author of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning, though deeply problematic novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner. Norman Jewison almost directed an adaptation of the novel in the late 1960's, starring James Earl Jones as Nat Turner. Styron essentially imagined Turner as a fictional character, as Harraway alludes to above. And as you'd expect, the project was met with what Jewison called an "incredibly angry exchange of ideas" with black revolutionaries at the time, who objected to the idea of a white director directing the film, as well as distortions of historical facts in Styron's book.Needless to say, the film never happened, and thank goodness for that!Whether or not Harraway's film gets made remains to be seen. I'll dig into the script in the next week or so, to see what he has in store for us, and report my findings. But if anyone beats me to it, feel free to share your thoughts here, or email me (obensont@gmail.com).First, here's the teaser for Nat Turner Unchained (warning, it's graphic and unnecessarily gratuitous). And underneath, watch Charles Burnett's documentary Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, in full.
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Nat Turner Unchained

Today in history... August 21st, 1831, in Virginia, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion, hoping to inspire a slave uprising in the south. Several dozen whites are killed before the revolt is defeated. Turner is later capture, tried and hanged. 


182 years later, many are still waiting for a definitive Nat Turner movie to be produced.

Maybe the most notable is the hour-long documentary, Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, directed by Charles Burnett, and released in 2003, which played the festival circuit, and eventually aired on PBS about a year later. 

It's not the full-length, scripted, big screen biopic that many have been hoping for, so, it'll have to do for now.

I did find out that there's an independently-made Nat Turner film in development, titled Nat Turner Unchained (likely a nod to Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained), written, produced and directed by Josh Harraway, who calls himself "The world's first Tupac impersonator."

Upon first discovering the film, I thought it was maybe a spoof, parody, work of satire or something similar, given the title, the tagline, and the teaser I watched (embedded below); but it turns out it's a very real film.

Xango Henry and Beckett Meyersfield are currently listed as cast members, with Xango apparently playing Nat Turner in the film.

Director Harraway has even made the script available online for anyone who'd like to read it. If you're curious, you can download it HERE. I only just learned about the project so I obviously haven't had time to read the script and offer any commentary on it.

But if the below teaser is anything to go by, I'm not sure how well the film will go over with audiences - even black audiences. Take a look at it for yourself. Harraway does say on the project's Facebook page that his film will be...:

... the most viciously accurate rendition of the events surrounding the infamous Nat Turner slave revolt of 1831. No holds barred. Nothing whitewashed. Historically accurate far beyond anything William Styron's distorted imagination could ever have dreamed up.

William Styron is of course, the author of the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning, though deeply problematic novel, The Confessions of Nat TurnerNorman Jewison almost directed an adaptation of the novel in the late 1960's, starring James Earl Jones as Nat Turner. Styron essentially imagined Turner as a fictional character, as Harraway alludes to above. And as you'd expect, the project was met with what Jewison called an "incredibly angry exchange of ideas" with black revolutionaries at the time, who objected to the idea of a white director directing the film, as well as distortions of historical facts in Styron's book.

Needless to say, the film never happened, and thank goodness for that!

Whether or not Harraway's film gets made remains to be seen. I'll dig into the script in the next week or so, to see what he has in store for us, and report my findings. But if anyone beats me to it, feel free to share your thoughts here, or email me (obensont@gmail.com).

First, here's the teaser for Nat Turner Unchained (warning, it's graphic and unnecessarily gratuitous). And underneath, watch Charles Burnett's documentary Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property, in full.

This article is related to: Things That Make You Go Hmm..., Today In History, Coming Soon


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