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At Venice Film Festival, Nate Parker's American Skin is a Moving Take on Police Brutality on Blacks

Three years after rape charges surfaced against him, Nate Parker is back at the Venice Film Festival with his latest outing, American Skin, about police brutality against blacks.

Gautaman Bhaskaran | News18.com

Updated:September 4, 2019, 12:14 PM IST
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At Venice Film Festival, Nate Parker's American Skin is a Moving Take on Police Brutality on Blacks
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Actor Nate Parker came to the Venice Film Festival in 2016 with his debut work, The Birth of a Nation. Fox snapped it in a record $17.5 million deal, and it would have knocked on the doors of the Academy. But the movie crashed at the box office, and did not roll into the Oscars race. All this happened because the news of Parker's rape charge in 2001, when he was a college student, reappeared. Also, Parker was termed somewhat callous because of his response to the accusation. Of course, he was never found guilty, but public opinion was strongly against him, especially after the woman who had pointed a finger at Parker committed suicide.

Now, three years later, Parker is back on the Lido with his latest outing, American Skin. Unfortunately, some things do not die – or are not allowed to die. The black mark against Parker refuses to be erased, and the Festival came under a cloud for having included American Skin. But Venice Director Alberto Barbera was firmly behind Parker – as he was supportive of Roman Polanski and taken his An Officer and a Spy. Barbera said that he was not going to judge the men, but only their creative efforts.

"I don't want to get into the whole issue. When you go see a painting by Caravaggio, you are seeing a work by an assassin who, after killing a man, had to escape to Palermo. It's ridiculous. If you can't make a distinction between the culpability of a person and that person's value as an artist, you aren't going to get anywhere”, the Director added.

Parker was also trying to make amends. He told the media the other day that he was "tone deaf" in the past to the charges against him. He said, "The last three years have been such a learning experience for me. I feel like I have gained so much wisdom from people in my circle."

"Three years ago I was pretty tone deaf to the realities of certain situations that were happening in the climate. And I've had a lot of time to think about that, and I've learned a lot from it. And being tone deaf, there were a lot of people that were hurt in my response, in the way I approached things. I apologise to those people," he added.

"I've learned, I'm continuing to learn. I'm 39 years old now. Hopefully I have a long way to go. The hope is that I can continue taking the wisdom from people who care enough... and help me to be introspective about where I am and what I've been through."

Finally, he said that he was highly honoured to be at Venice again with American Skin "a movie that I believe so desperately in." After Venice, American Skin will play at Deauville and El Gouna.

Parker's latest is about police brutality against blacks in America. It is bold and angry. Lincoln Jefferson (Parker) is driving his 14-year-old son, Kijani, back from a friend's house. The police stop them for speeding, though it emerges later that they had not crossed the limit. When the cops find that the car's insurance had expired, he is asked to get out, but the boy sensing trouble takes his mobile phone out. The police ask him to put it down, but when the kid hesitates, things go horribly wrong.

A year later, when Parker finds that the police officer concerned goes unpunished, the father takes up law in his own hands and sets up a kangaroo court to dispense justice.

A lot emerges during this mock trial which takes up 45 minutes of the film's run time. Questions are tossed around. Is the police brutal? Is it racist? Has it been dehumanised by insensitive training procedures?

American Skin is a hugely gripping movie that needs to be seen, and Parker is just compelling as a man who had served the US Army, as a man who wanted to see his son grow up and get married and have babies. He brings out the pain and pathos of a father who has lost it all. The utter sense of hopelessness and even desperation are writ large on his face.

Yes, American Skin is typically Hollywood fare, but yet needs to be seen. For, it narrates a beautifully touching story of a father – once an army guy who had served his country and kept it safe – pushed to the wall.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)

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