Nate Parker is a controversial filmmaker.
After “The Birth of a Nation,” allegations of his involvement in a 1999 rape case began to resurface. However, the director acquitted at the trial still bears the stink of the allegations to his name.
He did himself no favours by further turning off Hollywood by developing a sense of importance to himself and his work. There have been reviewers who acknowledged the importance of the stories he was trying to tell but simply felt that Parker as a personality is simply too grating to be taken seriously. His hubris and ambition were no help.
And American Skin certainly is ambitious. The problem is that it would take a much more competent filmmaker, like, say Spike Lee (who was involved in the project but did not direct it), to convey a nuanced portrayal of systemic racism and the people it affects. At least, that’s what I thought the goal of the movie was.
At times, the film feels very much like a big-budget short-film. In a way, this could be seen as a love letter or homage to filmmaking itself but is rather pretentious for a two-time director to pull off, especially with so much at stake. The movie attempts to cover a lot of ground. It sees itself as important.
And while the ideas presented in the movie are necessary, I’m not sure anyone who thought racial profiling or police violence wasn’t a problem would change their mind watching this. The arguments are so completely ham-fisted, and the cops are caricatured to the point of stupidity. American Skin doesn’t feel rooted in reality. Instead of a gritty look at what systemic racism causes and the wreckage that it leaves behind, it becomes parody and patronizing. If dealt with better care, the film had such potential that it’s almost a shame someone else didn’t buy the rights to the movie from him.
That said, the movie did bring up good points about the unfairness or ‘injust’ justice system that Black Americans are continually faced with. On the podcast, I discuss not just the systemic oppression of Black people in America but also a very real case study that happened in the Canadian court system. Listen to the episode to hear my thoughts on American Skin and how it relates to the assault on Dafonte Miller.