Aja Naomi King stars in The Birth of a Nation, written, directed and starring Nate Parker. Ms. King was born and raised in Los Angeles, she studied acting at the University of California before attending Yale University’s School of Drama and earning her Masters. Ms. King also currently stars on the hit television drama How To Get Away With Murder along with Viola Davis.
In The Birth of a Nation, a deeply powerful and moving true story of Nat Turner and the 1831 American slave rebellion, Ms King stars as Cherry, Turner’s wife. For her, the film was both challenging and deeply rewarding.
“When we were on that set, it wasn’t a job; it was an honour.”
There were scenes of violence that her character suffers and witnesses, but at its heart, too, it’s a story about love and sacrifice, she points out.
“Yes, there was suffering, but suffering is the expectation; the surprise in this film is that there’s also love and joy and family, and that these are the things to hold onto,” she says.
Nat Turner grew up on a slave plantation in Virginia, where as a bright, intelligent child, he was taught to read and later became a preacher. His ‘master’ Samuel Turner (played by Armie Hammer) would take Nat to spread the word of God to neighbouring drought-plagued plantations.
For his master, it was a way to make money and the plantation owners expected Turner to pacify their slaves with soothing words of spiritual healing.
But as Nat is confronted by the reality of the vicious cruelty of every day life for his fellow slaves he becomes more and more radicalised and grows into an impassioned and fierce leader who leads a revolt against the tyranny that he witnesses.
The Turner led rebellion is one of the most influential acts of armed resistance in American history. On the night of August 21, 1831, the uprising would claim the lives of between 44 and 65 whites and later more than 200 slaves were killed as the Virginia militia carried out ruthless reprisals.
The repercussions would reverberate down the years. But, says Ms King, this hugely important event in American history is often overlooked in the country’s schools.
“I wasn’t taught about Nat Turner at school because it’s not taught. I love the schools I went to, and I love the education that I have, but they don’t teach this. You learn about Martin Luther King Jr., you gloss over Malcolm X, you learn about Harriet Tubman.
“It’s sad that it’s something that’s considered a separate history, and not incorporated into American history.”
It’s only by examining the past that a healthy society can be at ease with itself in the present, she says. She hopes that The Birth of a Nation will be part of that debate and that perhaps, one day, the film might be shown in educational establishments.
The Birth of a Nation is released in cinemas on 9th December.