Nate Parker shines light on race in America

The “Beyond the Lights” star commits to ongoing debate on race

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Nate Parker as Kaz in “Beyond the Lights”

Triple-threat Nate Parker truly earns the distinction for effort that goes above and beyond the typical multi-hyphenate filmmaking brand. Currently, Parker headlines Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new romantic drama, “Beyond the Lights,” opposite rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as a young cop with his eyes on the larger career prize – transitioning from the police force to the political arena. The role showcases a little-seen black male protagonist, an upwardly mobile striver equally committed to using his head and his heart to make complex choices.

Before the wide release of “Beyond the Lights,” Parker dropped “#AmeriCAN,” a combination short film and public service announcement, which served as a response to recent events – the spike in deadly confrontations between young black males and police officers. These flashpoint instances have placed the racial divide in the United States in high relief, and Parker, working with James Lopez (who developed the story idea), wrote and directed a brief dramatic counterpoint, focusing on a white police officer (Joseph Millson), debating with his teenage son about hanging out in the stereotypically “unsafe” neighborhood of one of his best friends before going out on patrol. The short offers a telling contrast between the officer’s home life and his working persona on the streets.

Yet, in the wake of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, it is Parker’s teaming up with director Amy Berg, Academy Award nominee for the documentary “Deliver Us from Evil” (although later known for “West of Memphis,” which captured the failure of the criminal justice system in the West Memphis Three case), and writer-director Matthew Cooke (“How to Make Money Selling Drugs”) that seems likely to establish a lasting legacy for the star as a worthy successor to the social justice mantle of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. The trio has kicked off a crowdsourcing initiative on Indiegogo to raise funds to start work on a documentary, “American Race,” which aims to do more than shed light on this moment; the filmmakers seek to trace a timeline from the current crisis back through American history, while also asking key questions that should ignite a movement to create meaningful dialogue and change.

Taken from their Indiegogo statement of purpose:

“In response to the growing problem of racial disparity due to the ongoing dehumanization of black men, actor and activist Nate Parker is setting out on a journey of investigation. He will venture into black communities to speak to various stakeholders about the crisis facing these men. Through the examination of specific cases, Nate will create relevant and responsive discourse with the intention of mining strong and tangible solutions to combat this ever-growing crisis. We will also highlight existing programs that are creating effective and sustainable counter action to the crisis.”

Over the course of his career, Parker has chosen roles in dramatic features, “The Great Debaters” in 2007 and “Red Tails” in 2012, with historic resonance and an unquenchable righteous fire, but a project like “American Race” ups the ante at a time when most others would be content to merely sit back and wait for the comic book franchisers to come knocking.

The message, and the willingness of Parker to buck the trend, carries much weight.

Again, from the “American Race” Indiegogo page:

“The crisis itself will be brought forward and represented through interviews, news excerpts and historical footage. We find it extremely vital to recognize that the racial climate we exist in today is symptomatic of a larger problem that was established centuries ago. We will create a visual timeline of a systemic conditioning that will provide the viewer proper context for post Civil Rights America, where – in truth – very little has changed from times long past.”

It is time for the rest of the country to follow the lead of Berg, Cooke and Parker. The pathway can’t be much more visible, and we should thank Parker for lighting the way.

You can watch “#AmeriCAN” on For more information about “American Race” or to make a contribution, please visit

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Page and Page visit his blog for additional film reviews at Page

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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