He stands there, broken and impatiently waiting for the one gift God blessed him with in this miserable life. His imagination is tearing him up inside until finally, he sees her slowly walk through the door. She stops and stands there, broken and ashamed, to look up and see the one gift God blessed her with in this miserable life, standing, broken and waiting. In tears, they embrace each other. Sobbing. Knowing that what once was, will never be again.
Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation” sparked much debate. From Black feminists’ cries over boycotting the support of this film to it being labeled as just another slave movie by those who believe themselves to be “woke” or conscious, the reviews, comments and opinions on the film have been all over the place, positive, negative and in-between. But what I didn’t come across, were many comments addressing what, in my opinion, may have been the most powerful and thought provoking moments of the film. Hark, one of the slaves, has been told that guests of slave owner Samuel Turner has requested an evening with Esther, his new wife. After his refusal, he is reminded that he is being made aware of this not in order for him to grant permission but as a courtesy. Unwillingly, Esther does as she is expected. Hark stands outside of the house, waiting for Esther to return to him. You can see it in his face that he is torn apart. After what seemed like hours, Esther emerges from the house. Tears streaming down her face, she looks up to see her husband standing there. Sobbing, they embrace each other. Each now broken in their own way. And even though I watch as they try to hold each other together, I can’t help but find myself thinking “how was the black relationship ever suppose to be healthy after that?”
“How can black relationships ever be healthy after being built on such a tumultuous foundation?” It was a question I’ve still been asking myself after almost two weeks of seeing “Birth of a Nation”. The scene of Hark and Esther coming together after an experience that I’m sure left both of them individually broken in different ways, really lifted a veil and opened my eyes to a plausible root of how and why the dynamic between black men and women has been stained with the perception of dysfunction. From the moment Esther was forced to give her body to a man that was not her husband, stripping not only herself of dignity but Hark’s as well, a platform for the emotional battles fought within black relationships was established. It’s a fight; “How can you I trust you to protect me when you don’t have the power to” and How can I protect you when you don’t believe I have the power to?” For my generation, I believe those questioned have morphed into statements like “I’m an independent woman, I don’t need a man” and “She’s a good woman, but she doesn’t make me feel needed”, but are still standing on the same platform that was portrayed in that powerful scene. Now, this is in no way blaming the independent woman who can do for herself or the man that just wants to claim that aspect of his manhood and feel needed by his lady; but so often the interaction between a black man and women becomes this tug of war; giving slack just to pull it back when both parties want the same thing. Sure. There are countless couples that have been able to shed these perceptions and attain that balance and trust essential for a successful relationship; but I would beg to ask each of them how many battles they fought before they reached that climactic moment when they knew they found the person that matched their tug and pull. We’ve created the vicious cycle of pointing fingers when we’re all culprits but some of us just get the privilege of stumbling upon that one.
I for one, am tired of stumbling in hopes I get lucky and I think that’s why this scene struck such a deep chord with me. The concept portrayed wasn’t new to me. From my understanding of the Willie Lynch letter and studying relationships throughout the pursuit of my bachelors degree in psychology, I’ve acknowledged the role systematic racism has played into the dysfunction within black relationships. But, there was something about seeing all that brokenness, although fictional, that hit me in a real way and the only thing I can boil down all the thoughts I have on it are the questions: how do we fix something that has been so grotesquely ingrained into our perceptions and interactions and once we figure out the how, where do we even start? And all I can hope is that as we continue our fight for the end of the systemic racism plaguing our communities, that reclaiming the black relationship doesn’t become a lost goal of the movement.