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

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 21, 2013 11:52 AM
5 Comments
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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.

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5 Comments

  • James | August 22, 2013 8:39 AMReply

    Going off the teaser alone, it's unnecessary and irresponsible. If it's supposed to be comedic, it's passable but if it's supposed to be serious, that makes it a whole lot worse.

    I like how the scene is shot, very subtle in some ways. Everything leading up to the killing of the baby conveyed a potent message and had the killing been left out, I feel that it would have been a very powerful and respectable trailer.
    Even in Django, as graphic as it was at times and any other slave themed movie, you'll notice that white characters are seldom shown to be killing black people so graphically. Much of the brutality is left to our imagination. It of course doesn't need to be so graphic because we all know what happened historically and so can piece together little things like blood splatter and how many black babies and children may have been killed.

    So when when it comes to a story about a black slave revolting, must he be shown in a light that makes it hard for the audience to empathize with his story?

    Black or white, every intelligent human being will respect the fact that a slave rebels, no human being should be caged by another but in this teaser, Nat Turner is set up as a devil and I feel that more care should be used visually. If the Director/writer wants a completely open approach to what he/she believes the truth to be, fine.
    Kill the baby but why must it be shown?
    There could easily be a shot where the camera pulls out and we see Nat left holding the baby crying; a few moments later Nat can emerge from the room to a backdrop of silence while shedding tears etc. There's just other ways to hammer a point home without dragging black characters through the mud in the process.

    Now am I not asking a film maker to lie, I'm just suggesting that more care be used lest impressionable minds start sympathizing with Plantation owners and not the human beings who were treated like animals. Film is powerful, use it wisely.

  • other song | August 22, 2013 1:15 PM

    and by 'this scene', I meant 'the trailer.'

  • other song | August 22, 2013 1:15 PM

    I think this scene is supposed to be Will, and not Nat, who takes the baby and slotters it. I'm guessing this because I read most of the script. Of course the average person (even me) had no idea this WASNT Nat. You just assume it's him.

    The script starts of quite well in my opinion but then it deteriorates into graphic killing/sexual abuse (a GhettoGaggers reference? really my dude?) . Which I'm not trying to watch. Real talk, there's nothing that says Nat Turner HAD to kill every white person including women and children. There's little-to-no evidence that children/women were murdered in cold blood (and this makes it hard for audiences to empathize). You could rewrite the story to say that he only targeted white males. make him a hero.

  • iwonder | August 21, 2013 8:16 PMReply

    is this still in production? the blog's last post was Aug 2012. and the trailer's 6 months old. is it being developed?

  • Aaron | August 21, 2013 1:12 PMReply

    I could've sworn that Nat Turner was a mulatto judging by all of the books and papers I read about him. Either way tell the story the way it happened.

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