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Takeaways from The Birth of a Nation Deal with Fox Searchlight at Sundance

The purchase of The Birth of a Nation by Fox Searchlight is the largest purchase in the history of the Sundance Film Festival.  After standing ovations after the period piece’s viewing, the Oscar buzz for the film garnered a bit of a bidding war.  Nate Parker, the writer/director/star of the film rejected a $20 million offer from Netflix and accepted a $17.5 million offer from Fox Searchlight a more independent distribution branch of 20th Century Fox.  There are three points of note from this purchase:

  • Upfront cash is not everything.  The rejection of the aforementioned Netflix proposal shows that Parker wanted to do more than make money.  Fox Searchlight offers more marketing and a wider and lengthier theater release.  Netflix planned to only release the film in theaters just long enough to make it eligible for an Academy Award.
  • Netflix may not be the best option for new independent films.  In the midst of the diversity issues with the Oscars, the Netflix produced Beasts of No Nation was a part of the frenzy.  However, there is a strong possibility that the lack of love for the film is due to a platform bias.  Netflix has two original shows garnering award nominations and victories, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.  Streaming sites and television with on-demand services are closer to one another than streaming sites and movie theaters.
  • The Birth of a Nation is also a 1915 Ku Klux Klan film that is admired for its craftsmanship in film-making but is controversial because it portrays the Klan as protagonists after the Civil War.  The Parker film completed a full century later, has current slaves as protagonists with their masters as antagonists.  Given the reaction at Sundance, similar admiration among audiences and film critics is expected.  If the selection of the title was to help with marketing, it was a wise selection.

The drama about an 1831 slave revolt led by historical figure Nat Turner (Parker) has not been given a release date to theaters at this time.  Audiences should anticipate an Oscar season release.  The movie stars Parker, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer, Gabrielle Union, Penelope Ann Miller and Jackie Earle Haley.

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