Fresh from its debut on Monday afternoon at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, The Birth Of A Nation has been bought for the record-breaking amount of $17.5 million. This is the highest amount that a studio has ever paid at Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight were the ones that smashed the record to buy The Birth Of A Nation, but the blame for its huge price is put firmly on Netflix.
The Birth Of A Nation is the passion project of Nate Parker, who wrote, produced, directed and starred in the biopic. It revolves around the life of Nat Turner, played by Nate Parker, an African-American slave who led a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831.
Taught to read as young boy so that he could study the bible and preach to fellow slaves, Nat Turner is ultimately taken across the United States by his master on a preaching tour. During this trip, which his master profits off of exponentially, Turner learns firsthand about the scope and size of slavery, which inspires him to become a different leader altogether.
Simply labelling The Birth Of A Nation, which is purposefully named after D.W. Griffiths' racist 1915 epic, as Nate Parker’s passion project doesn’t even cover the extend of Parker's dedication to the piece. In fact, the Red Tails and Beyond The Lights actor vowed after shooting his role in the latter that he wouldn’t take another part until he played Nat Turner.
Years earlier, Nate Parker had been told that The Birth Of A Nation wouldn’t work for a number of reasons: the fact that movies with black leads don’t play internationally, it would be too expensive, was too violent, and the character of Turner was simply too controversial.
Nate Parker wouldn’t be stopped in his pursuit though, and after taking his vow of acting abstinence, he began to raise money for production himself, ultimately ending up with $6 million of the intended $10 million budget. Bron Studios’ Aaron L. Gilbert then joined the film as a producer, and covered the remaining financing.
Monday’s reaction to the screening suggests that it was all worth it, as The Birth Of A Nation was met with a rapturous applause and standing ovation that carried on all the way through the credits to the Q&A that followed. Because of this reaction, a bidding war between Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company, Paramount, Netlix, and various other suitors began.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the huge amount paid for The Birth Of A Nation is being blamed on Netflix. Netiflix, as well as fellow streaming website Amazon, have been splashing the cash at Sundance over the last few days, and when they got involved in the overnight auction the price continued to rise. The previous record for a Sundance acquisition was Little Miss Sunshine, which sold for $10.5 million back in 2006.
The reaction, as well as the huge amount paid for The Birth Of A Nation, will immediately start an Oscar buzz for the film. Especially since the 12 Years A Slave success at the 2014 ceremony showed that the Academy has precedent when it comes to rewarding films of this ilk. Plus, the lack of Oscars diversity at this year’s ceremony could lead to the Academy overcompensating in 12 months time. Unfortunately, that's just the weird way they seem to work.