Trauma-informed approach to “Birth of a Nation”

From what I/we experienced on the field trip taking highschoolers to see Birth of a Nation, I offer the following as supporting a trauma-informed approach to this movie-going experience. Also, the movie is very gendered in the things that arise and how things are addressed, therefore, the preparation and post-discussions for girls, may be different from the prep/discussions for boys.

  1. Have a couple of designated “safe persons” seated at the back of the theater who students can go to if they need to exit the theater because it is triggering or just too much for them. This builds a level of emotional safety for them.
  2. Once in the theater, everyone settled and before the start of the movie, inform the youth of these safe persons. (I am not saying anyone will come to them, but it provides a psychological safety-net for them, just to know people have been designated. It also supports not being desensitized to seeing brutalization hence, normalizes feeling.)
  3. Once in the theater and everyone is settled, also address that they may feel uncomfortable but try to refrain from using laughter as their reaction, because it may offend others who are experiencing the movie in a different way or who may be survivors of “bad and stressful things” happening to them.

Possible discussion questions:

  1. Does self-awareness exist in silence? (This is for the older students, though I trust if it’s broken down the younger students could engage it as well. The contextual relevance of this story is that Black girls/women in the movie were predominately rendered voiceless as passive victims, which is an inaccurate historical representation of Black girls and women.  There is a strong herstory of Black girls/women resisting slavery, and being active participates and/or leaders throughout African Americans fight for justice and liberation in this country.)
  2. Did the filmmaker lack integrity by not portraying an accurate account of history? (Contextual relevance of this question: The movie was not Nat Turner’s story, too many falsehoods. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a truth, just not Nat Turner’s truth.)
  3. What are other ways we can find out about Nat Turner?
  4. How was “anger” expressed in the movie?
  5. What leadership characteristics and style(s) did Nat have/utilize?
  6. What is your vision of safety, liberation and freedom?
  7. Did the movie make you feel hopeful or helpless?
  8. How does the movie relate to what’s happening now?
  9. Would it have been a different experience if the movie focused more on the uprising, and not the backstory of Turner? How?

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