Sundance: 'Birth of a Nation' Sets Record With $17.5M Sale to Fox Searchlight

The Birth of a Nation still 2 - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The studio beat escalating bids from The Weinstein Co., Netflix, Paramount and other suitors.

Worldwide rights to slave-rebellion drama The Birth of a Nation, which premiered Monday afternoon in Park City, Utah, to multiple standing ovations, have been picked up by Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival for record $17.5 million, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. 

Searchlight beat out escalating bids from The Weinstein Co., Netflix (which insisted on a day-and-date theatrical and streaming debut), Paramount and other suitors. Several films have reached $10 million at the fest, including Manchester by the Sea (bought by Amazon earlier this week) and The Way, Way Back (by Fox Searchlight in 2013).

The sale indicates how deep-pocketed streaming giants Netflix and Amazon have changed the Sundance market. After the streamers scooped up several titles at eye-popping prices, Netflix helped bid up the price of Birth in the overnight auction.

Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in the project, which is based on the story of Nat Turner, an American-born slave who led the most successful slave rebellion in American history.

While it's the highest price paid for a film at Sundance, it's not the most ever shelled out at a festival. Two Cannes titles, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villenueve's Story of Your Life, both went for $20 million, and those films were not made yet.

When Birth premiered Monday at Eccles Center, there was a standing ovation that lasted throughout the entire credits. It continued as Parker, who also produced the film, took the stage for the Q&A.

"I made this film for one reason — with the hope of creating change agents," Parker told the audience. That people can watch this film and be affected. That you can watch this film and see that there were systems that were in place that were corrupt and corrupted people and the legacy of that still lives with us. I just want you, if you are affected and you are so moved, to ask yourself, 'Are there systems in my life that need attention, whether it be racial, gender?' There are a lot of injustices."

Soon after, several buyers were in the mix, with expectations that the bidding could likely become the highest of this year's fest. A heated bidding war went on through the night, with at least seven interested parties, including several studios.

As THR previously reported, Parker quit acting for nearly two years to work on getting financing for Birth, which also stars Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley and Gabrielle Union.

Parker, Kevin Turen, Jason Michael Berman, Aaron L. Gilbert, and Preston L. Holmes produced the pic, with David S. Goyer, Michael Novogratz, Michael Finley, Tony Parker, Jason Cloth, Jane Oster, Barb Lee, Carl H. Lindner III, Derrick Brooks, Jill and Ryan Ahrens, Armin Tehrany and Mark Moran acting as executive producers.