After months of controversy about filmmaker and star Nate Parker’s rape trial and acquittal from 1999, the opening numbers from The Birth Of A Nation are finally in.
The film, based on the slave revolt led by Nat Turner, earned an estimated $7.1 million in its opening weekend. At first glance, the sales look disappointing behind the budget and the hype.
Parker – the film’s writer, director, producer and star – raised $10 million over multiple years to get the film made, and it sold at Sundance for a record-breaking $17.5 million. It told the lesser-known story of one of the most provocative figures in black (and American) history, and promotional posters that depicted Parker with an American flag tied around his neck as a noose got people talking. Not to mention the bubbling Black Lives Matter movement, which has become the biggest civil rights movement since the 1960s in the time that the film was being made. It seemed like a perfect storm for a critical and box office success until controversy over Parker’s rape charges, which prompted many people to say on social media that they were boycotting the film. The rape charges eventually usurped the film with most media, and it seemed clear that the film wouldn’t be successful – so an opening weekend of only $7.1 million seemed to be expected.
But WatchLOUD reports that The Birth of Nation is right on track with other films of its type. Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave opened at about $6.6 million with its widespread opening weekend (the week was preceded by a limited run in 19 theaters, earning $923,715). It ended up making $56 million domestically, and $131 million worldwide. Belle, a film which depicts a free biracial woman who is the daughter of a slave and a British Royal Navy officer, opened in only four theaters, with $106,578; it eventually took home $10.7 million.
Free State of Jones, which stars Matthew McConaughy as a white man rebelling against the confederacy, opened with $7.5 million and has only grossed $20.8 million – less than half of its $50 million budget.
Another note regarding The Birth of a Nation is that along with people who may have made principled decisions to not support the film, this was also the same weekend as Hurricane Matthew, which had families scrambling to recover instead of going to see a movie.
WatchLOUD‘s story implies that the $7.1 opening weekend isn’t the flop that other publications or critics think: that instead, it’s performing about as well as expectations should dictate. Many will still see the opening weekend as a flop, but only time will tell regarding its long-term box office numbers.