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February 2010
BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME | An Interview with Nate Parker

An Interview with Nate Parker

By Wilson Morales

February 16, 2010


As we celebrate Black History Month, coming out this week is a story about a time period that most people haven’t forget and for some that need to remember.

Jeb Stuart's 'Blood Done Sign My Name' is a civil rights drama based on the acclaimed book of the same name by prize-winning author and scholar Timothy Tyson.

The movie recounts the small town murder of Henry Marrow, a 23 year-old black Vietnam veteran, who was shot and beaten to death by a prominent white businessman and his grown sons.

Playing a young Ben Chavis is the wonderful actor, Nate Parker, whose previous credits include ‘The Great Debaters,’ ‘Pride,’ and ‘The Secret Life of Bees.’

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Parker talks about his role in the film, his love for Black history, and upcoming role in ‘Red Tails.’


How did you get involved in the project?

NP: I was called by the director Jeb Stuart, who is an incredible writer, and he said this was going to be his directing piece, he asked me what I thought about it so he gave me the book and I read the book and was instantly onboard. I felt like this is right in line with the things I want to do with my platform as an actor. I came right aboard, came to set and we started work immediately.
  I know you read the script and the book, but did you meet Ben prior to shooting the movie to get an idea of what his mannerisms were?

NP: No. That’s the thing, I didn’t act his mannerisms, I didn’t seek to imitate anything about him, I only sought to deliver the truth in his ideals. To really get an understanding of who he was and what his motivation was for being such a hero as he is right now, and how it started. I think a real turning point in his life is when he went into the structure of the school, he was a student teacher. There was rioting, Henry Marrow is killed who was his cousin, and he had to ask himself, “Am I willing to sacrifice?” One of the things they didn’t show in the film is he was fired after he led those kids out of that class. That was his last day of student teaching. I didn’t have the luxury of meeting him until the first cut was nearing completion. We met and we talked and he encouraged me and it was just a beautiful thing. It was inspiring.

Meeting someone who was part of that time is something special, but when you’re acting it out do you reflect about how this was happening back in the day?

NP: No, I think more about how it’s happening now. Henry Marrow was just one of many brothers that was killed as a result of systemic racism. If you see Sean Bell or Amadou Ahmed Diallo, there are many stories of police brutality that are happening. There are things being swept under the rug in this quest for One America, and we are One America but at the same time there are issues in the black community and unfortunately we lead the nation in some of the most horrible statistics that exist. I think as long as that is prevalent and we can agree that is injustice then we’ll always need to do something like this and seek solutions in our past in order to go forward properly.
As an actor you’ve been in other films, you’ve been part of big ensembles, but for this film you’re the lead. How does that feel for you?

NP: It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s the platform. If you’re on a stage with ten people you have a certain kind of voice, and if you’re on the stage with two people you have a different kind of voice. I think being the person that was given the task of trudging along with the responsibilities I think it was a blessing, but I think it’s no more important a role than Rick Schroder as Vernon Tyson ‘cause he showed the elements of the church but he also showed how the Klu Klux Klan listed their inspiration as the church, showed the perversity. It’s cooperation, no one is more important than another, and being the lead gives you more responsibility because you’ve seen more and you’re held up to more accountability outside of film, ‘cause I think now the one good thing about film is I can walk into a university and tell them okay, I was the lead in this movie but at the same time that’s the kind of leadership I want to have in the community.
How come your high-profile films deal with race? “Secret Life of Bees”, “Pride”, “Great Debators”, “Blood Done Sign My Name”… do you notice the pattern?

NP: Yeah, I’ve chosen that pattern. The fact that we have the first African American President in office gives us more of an opportunity to deal with more of the racial issues that effect us as a country. If we are to really push forward as a democracy then we can not turn our back t the injustices that we face. It is necessary for every person who calls himself an American to understand the plight of other cultures, especially the ones that are suffering the most. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.” I think that I should understand as a person using the media platform to educate people on the state of the community. Do I want to do other genres? Absolutely. However, just as one drop of sewage water in pure water makes the water impure, one drop of injustice in the “purity” of our country toxifies the entire country. We have the need to fix those injustices.

What is your role in George Lucas’s “Red Tails”?

NP: I portray a character named Marty Julian, the leader of a group of Tuskegee Airmen that are basically fighting for their rights back home, to earn their rights as Americans. It’s the same tone, it’s basically highlighting more heroes that have been swept under the rug. It’s an action piece, it’s a feel-good movie. It’ll feel like a George Lucas movie, there will be certain things that will be evident.

  And how was it working with that cast?

NP: It was great, it was incredible working with them. I had the opportunity to work with Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., some of the greatest of our generation, so it was a blessing.
Is that a story that needs to be told?

NP: Absolutely. That’s the fabric of who we are as Americans.
I spoke to Ben Chambers earlier and he said there’s a project you two are working on?

NP: Absolutely, we have something we’re working on that we’re not talking about yet, but we’re beating the path of that now and everyone will know about it in the coming months.

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