Next Year’s Oscar Race Heats Up At Sundance With Slavery Revolt Epic

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And you thought this year’s Academy Awards were competitive?

2016 is already an intense battle between the two hottest properties at the Sundance Film Festival, and the latest may guarantee that next year’s Oscar race won’t be so white. It also promises to add a theological dimension to the canon of slavery-themed films.

Just days after the intense family drama Manchester by the Sea debuted to unequivocal, universal acclaim at its Sundance debut – and was purchased for a Sundance record-tying $10 million by Amazon, with a promised awards season push – The Birth Of A Nation, based on the violent early 1800s true story of the most successful slave uprising in American history, received a standing ovation at its Sundance premiere that lasted through the entire end credits and beyond. Variety described the audience atmosphere as “electrifying”, adding that “response to the picture was seismic, and the Oscar buzz erupted as soon as the lights went up…”

To no one’s surprise, a rabid bidding war immediately ensued. After a heated contest between many suitors, Fox Searchlight bought the rapturously received indie-epic from African-American filmmaker Nate Parker (who wrote, directs, and stars as revolt leader Nat Turner) for a record-shattering $17.5 million bounty. It beat out other serious bids from The Weinstein Co., Paramount, and Netflix (it’s even rumored that Netflix offered $20 million, but was declined for unknown reasons). For more on the buzz at the premiere, and comments from Parker, click here.

The film, which will likely be released in the fall, co-stars Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley and Gabrielle Union.

Variety Justin Chang raves that The Birth Of A Nation is a “biographical drama steeped equally in grace and horror” that “builds to a brutal finale that will stir deep emotion and inevitable unease,” adding that “the film is perhaps even more accomplished as a theological provocation, one that grapples fearlessly with the intense spiritual convictions that drove Turner to do what he had previously considered unthinkable.” (read the full Variety review here)

The Hollywood Reporter proclaims that it “vividly captures an assortment of slavery’s brutalities while also emphasizing the religious underpinnings of [Nat] Turner’s justifications for his assaults on slaveholders” and is a film that’s “very much in tune with the current state of heightened racial friction and one that will assuredly generate a great deal of media attention, and probably controversy — more for cultural and political, rather than artistic, reasons…” (read the full THR review here)

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