1. Truth: I watched Birth of a Nation a few days ago. For as long as slavery went on, for how recent it is in our collective experience, for the ways that history continues to impact us today, there are surprisingly few movies about it, and even fewer good ones. This one had a powerful message, was well made with the potential to make a big impact. As soon as I watched it, I wanted everyone to see it, if for no other reason than I needed someone to talk to about it.
2. Truth: Then I found out the movie’s backstory. Apparently, the director who was also the lead actor, Nate Parker, was accused of rape, along with one of the writers on the movie. The story is heartbreaking. The woman who accused them eventually killed herself, and her brother said, “I don’t think a rapist should be celebrated. It’s really a cultural decision we’re making as a society to go to the theater and speak with our dollars and reward a sexual predator.” Even though he was acquitted at trial, Parker’s own statement about it makes it clear he knows he did something wrong: “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.” I haven’t seen Manchester by the Sea because of the sexual harassment accusations against Casey Affleck, so this is an issue that does matter to me, something that does impact my choices. I don’t want to give my money or time to someone who treats women badly, harasses or attacks them. As the victim of sexual harassment and assault myself, it just doesn’t feel right.
3. Truth: And yet, because I saw the movie first, was moved by it and saw the message wholly removed from the messenger, it’s hard to let it go, difficult to dismiss it entirely — and I don’t really know what to do with that. The same thing happened to me with my Buddhist practice. I studied and practiced and embodied the benefits of the teachings for six years before I fully investigated the head of the lineage in which I practice. What I found was a man whose behavior didn’t sit right with me, but his teachings and the community already did. It was difficult to work my way through that doubt and confusion and anger to find my way back to the dharma, but I did — eventually.
One wish: That stories of slavery and its impact continue to be told, and that the tellers be honest people we can feel good about supporting. In my future is Underground (a new TV series), Roots (the updated mini-series), and 12 Years a Slave (which I missed the first time around), as well as the movies on this list, 21 Social Justice Documentaries On Netflix To Watch. And books, so many books! (Any recommendations you have are welcome, kind and gentle reader).