The Birth of a Nation premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival went off without a hitch.
"This has been such a labor of love for us and we are just desperately proud to present it to you," the film's director and star Nate Parker said during a brief introduction with his cast behind him on the stage at the Winter Garden Theatre.
The Birth of a Nation tells the true story of Nat Turner, a slave who led a deadly slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831.
Fox Searchlight paid a record-breaking $17.5 million for the film just hours after it screened at the Sundance Film Festival. However, enthusiasm for the first-time director dimmed recently after Hollywood trade media began re-examining his alleged involvement in a gang rape when he was a 19-year-old college student. Parker was acquitted of the charges, but it was revealed recently that his rape accuser committed suicide two years ago.
The TIFF audience tonight welcomed the movie with applause and cheers during the introduction. When the cast re-assembled on stage for a Q&A after the screening, they received a standing ovation for about two minutes.
"Thank you all so much for being here and watching the film," Parker said at the start of the Q&A.
He explained that he didn't learn about Nat Turner until after high school. "I learned about him in college," Parker said. "The interesting thing is I grew up 42 miles east of where the rebellion happened and there was not even a remnant of his exploits. So when I learned about him, I felt like, 'Man, this is someone who should be celebrated."
While Turner's story isn't widely known, Parker said, "I think he solidified his legacy as soon as he raised the ax."
The studio opted not to have the usual red carpet with media grabbing soundbites from the cast. Instead, it was a photos-only arrival line. Another screening and Q&A was also set for later in the evening.
The Birth of a Nation is in theaters on Oct. 7.