Race finds spotlight through true stories at Toronto Film Festival

Thu Sep 8, 2016 5:08pm EDT
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By Piya Sinha-Roy and Alastair Sharp

LOS ANGELES/TORONTO (Reuters) - A slavery drama clouded by controversy, an African king fighting to be with a white woman and a young Barack Obama navigating college life are some of the true-life tales exploring race at the Toronto International Film Festival, against a backdrop of heightened racial tension.

As the 10-day festival kicks off on Thursday, all eyes are on the Friday premiere of "The Birth of a Nation," about preacher-slave Nat Turner, who led a rebellion in the antebellum South.

"Birth of a Nation," which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January to rave reviews and was hailed an Oscar front-runner, has stumbled in the past month as news emerged of the film's star and writer-director-producer Nate Parker's 2001 trial and acquittal on rape charges.

While the controversy around Parker has overshadowed "Birth of a Nation," the film itself puts a spotlight on the harrowing brutality suffered by slaves.

The film comes amid heightened tensions in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police brutality against members of the black community.

It also comes at a time where the film industry has come under fire for its lack of diversity after this year's Oscars featured no acting nominees of color, sparking the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

"Filmmakers are attracted to controversy, they’re attracted to issues, debates of the day, and the racial debate is certainly one of the key ones," said Piers Hardling, chief executive of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Aside from "Birth of a Nation," there is "Barry," the story of a young Barack Obama navigating racial and social issues when he attended Columbia University in New York in 1981.   Continued...

Actor Nate Parker poses at the premiere of his new film "Non-Stop" in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File Photo