October 2016 Box Office Forecast

By Michael Lynderey

October 6, 2016


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6. The Birth of a Nation (October 7th)
The only major awards contender of the month is a topical film that, whether by chance of timing or design, exists somewhere between the nexus of #Oscarsowhite and Black Lives Matter. Re-claiming the title but not the story of the infamously racist 1915 D. W. Griffith silent film, 2016's Birth of a Nation is a dramatization of one of the bigger slave rebellions in North America, when Nat Turner broke free of his chains and led a violent insurrection, before being captured and executed.

No forecast of the film can exist without transcribing the off-screen history of its maker, which is thus: after its premiere in Sundance, The Birth of a Nation seemed positioned as an early frontrunner for the Academy Award for Best Picture (with glares at Best Director or Actor, both for star and writer/director Nate Parker, making his debut as helmer). Roughly two months ago, controversy erupted about rape accusations against Parker and Jean Celestin, billed as co-creator of the film's story, and thus turned discussion about the film onto a different topic altogether (Parker was found not guilty, while Celestin was initially convicted, and after his conviction was overturned prosecutors declined to retry him; their accuser ended her own life years later).

The film was left in a somewhat fraught position of having to answer for its creators, although its screenings at the recent Toronto Film Festival went well. The studio, Fox Searchlight, launched 12 Years a Slave, another based-on-a-true-story about 19th century slavery, and was probably hoping for a repeat performance on a similar scheduling bow. That film received a platform opening, and, perhaps sensing that this time is different, the studio is sending The Birth of a Nation into wide release immediately. So the film stands as the month's most unpredictable title, polarizing and relevant for more than one reason, and with the potential, if tracking is off enough, to do well at the box office. Will it have legs? Will Oscar voters evaluate it independent of the off-screen information? (aside from the aforementioned, Nat Turner's crew killed women and children, another fact worth noting). The film's 7.3 score on Rotten Tomatoes is not particularly high for a potential Best Picture nominee, but media coverage and interest may drive up an opening weekend that's stronger than expected. The conversation is just beginning.

Opening weekend: $18 million / Total gross: $51 million

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