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Nate Parker is headed to Nat Geo.
The Birth of a Nation star-writer-director, who has been embroiled in controversy following the resurfacing of rape allegations made against him in 1999, is executive producing an hourlong documentary for the channel, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Rise Up: The Legacy of Nat Turner centers on the historical figure at the center of Birth of a Nation. An African-American slave and preacher, Turner led a bloody revolt in Virginia. Although he is remembered by many as a killer, Rise Up looks to offer a new perspective by exploring how Turner lived, fought and died to go beyond the rebellion.
The documentary also will outline the history and culture of enslaved people in Virginia and will give an in-depth timeline of the events that led to the insurrection, mapping the entire event and also laying out a series of recollections of the rebellion, which ultimately led into the Civil War.
Turner was arrested and hanged two months later. He was never given a proper burial but scholars and archaeologists believe they may have discovered his gravesite for the first time ever.
Roger Guenveur Smith (The Birth of a Nation, Dope) will host the doc, which will feature interviews with Kenneth Morris, Jr. (third-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass), Evelyn Sykes Hawkins (Turner descendant), Vivian Claude Lucas (Turner descendant), archaeologist Dr. Kelley Fanto Deetz, Dr. Alfred Brophy (professor, history and law, University of North Carolina) and Dr. Sarah Roth (associate professor, history, Widener University).
“The story of Nat Turner is pivotal in the narrative of our country,” Nat Geo original programming and production president Tim Pastore said Wednesday in a statement. “His story is essential to discussions on historical and contemporary racial tensions, and we are honored to be able to share the importance of his legacy with our viewers.”
Added Parker: “Nat Turner left a lasting legacy that continues to resonate with Americans today. Working on this documentary allowed us to give the public the background knowledge of who Turner was and why his rebellion has left such a lasting impact on our country.”
The hourlong special is produced for National Geographic Channel by National Geographic Studios and Tiny Giant. Parker and Pastore exec produce with Bengt Anderson, Jeff Hasler, Brian Lovet and Lia Buman.
Set to open Friday, Birth of a Nation was a hot title when it bowed at Sundance in January. Fox Searchlight, the sister company of Nat Geo, bought the worldwide rights to the pic for $17.5 million — the biggest sum in the film festival’s history.
However, the film has received negative attention in recent months after Parker spoke to several outlets about the 1999 rape trial in which he and Jean Celestin (who later co-wrote Birth of a Nation) were accused of raping a classmate at Pennsylvania State University. Parker, who maintained the sex was consensual, was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted. (Celestin’s case was later overturned on appeal.) It also was discovered in recent months that Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012.
Birth of a Nation is currently tracking to open in the $7-$8 million range this weekend when it bows in approximately 2,100 theaters.
Rise Up premieres Friday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Nat Geo.
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Michael K. Williams