The most famous telling of the story of Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion so far has been William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, a book that hobbled Styron with the uproar it caused. (It also won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1968.) Styron was a white man from Virginia, and black leaders denounced him for his gall in undertaking to speak in Turner's voice. One exception was Styron's friend, the great author and civil rights figure James Baldwin. Baldwin said that Styron had "begun to write a common history -- ours."
That history, as Baldwin predicted, is still being written. Styron's version of Turner's famous revolt probably won't be the most famous telling for much longer. A new film called The Birth of a Nation was the talk of the Sundance film festival this year. Directed by and starring Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation was the object of a bidding war. Fox Searchlight paid nearly $18 million for distribution rights. Baldwin, of course isn't here to review it. But one can imagine him saying that Parker, too, addresses with his film "a common history -- ours."
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