Venice Audience Cheers Nate Parker's 'American Skin'

Venice Film Festival
'American Skin'

A minutes-long standing ovation, and no mention of scandal, as the director of 'Birth of a Nation' marks his return with a tale of a black man seeking justice after his son is killed by the police.

There were cheers, a good seven-minute standing ovation and not a hint of scandal Sunday night when Nate Parker's American Skin had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival.

The Venice audience gave a warm and raucous welcome to Parker and the new drama from the Birth of a Nation director. As with Birth, Parker wrote, directed and stars in American Skin, playing Linc, a black military veteran who, after his son is killed by police after a random traffic stop, seeks justice. When a grand jury refuses to prosecute the case, Linc takes the police hostage in their own station and stages a private trial to determine the offending officer's guilt or innocence.

“You knocked it out of the park,” said director Spike Lee, who presented American Skin to the Venice audience, and carried out a short Q&A with the director and cast immediately afterward.

Speaking about the themes of the film, Parker said he felt “hopeful and optimistic” the film would move people “to take action” to address the issues of police brutality.

It was a theme picked up by actor Theo Rossi, who plays a police officer in the film. “We need to start having nuanced conversations about these things, not 140 characters, not headlines, but real conversations,” he said.

American Skin has not been as warmly received by critics. The Hollywood Reporter complained the film indulged in “bullet-point didacticism” and “transparent emotional manipulation” in addressing the weighty issues of racism and police brutality.

Sunday's premiere audience didn't seem to mind. After the credits rolled, the crowd at the Sala Giardino theater jumped to their feet and stayed there for several minutes.

Earlier in the day, Parker spoke at a press conference, where he addressed the scandal that engulfed him in 2016 after news of a rape charge against him from 1999 — for which Parker was acquitted — resurfaced. Parker admitted to being “tone deaf” to criticism of his response at the time and apologized to people “that were hurt by the way I responded and how I approached things.”

The scandal essentially torpedoed the release of Birth of a Nation — which Fox had picked up out of Sundance for a record $17.5 million.

But the Venice audience would have been largely unaware of the discussion from 2016, as the scandal was not major news here and Birth of a Nation was not widely released outside the U.S.

It still remains to be seen if the warm welcome given American Skin in Venice on Sunday night will translate to a second chance for Nate Parker.