Black-History Actor Bets on ‘Arbitrage’ Role

We spoke to Nate Parker, the Red Tails and Great Debaters star, about his latest film.

Scene from Arbitrage (Roadside Attractions)
Scene from Arbitrage (Roadside Attractions)

NP: Well, first of all, we’re all men, so there is never any reason to be intimidated. The only person I look up to is the Lord. So for me, knowing that I walked into a project having done the work to prepare for it, I felt ready.

When Tim wants to improv and just says something that’s not in the script, I was ready. If Richard Gere wants to rehearse for 10 hours and go over beats, then I’m ready for that, too. So I felt prepared. It was such a collaborative set, where everyone’s opinions mattered.

TR: What’s next for you?

NP: I’ll be working with Spike Lee again in six weeks for a remake of the cult classic Oldboy, where I play a doctor that helps the two main characters in the film. Again, contemporary, but he’s a doctor. And I’m happy about that because Spike called me and asked me to be in it, which is rare, because so many people in Hollywood don’t really pass on opportunities like that.

And then after that, I am passionate about making a Nat Turner biopic, which is all I really care about right now in my career … getting it off the ground, because it’s an extremely important story for our community, and it’s in many ways colorless, too, because it’s about love, faith, redemption and triumph. Like Schindler’s List or our Braveheart.

TR: Outside of acting, since Great Debaters, you’ve done a lot of work in black communities around the country. Can you expound on that?

NP: I still work with Brian Favors on my Leadership and Literacy Through Debate campaign in New York, so I go to Brooklyn every year to speak to the kids. And I’m setting up the Nate Parker Foundation, which will help create a platform that provides a rite of passage for young black males. The ultimate goal, if you ask me, is to eventually build institutions that provide culturally and historically relevant education to our young men and women.

Jean McGianni Celestin is a New York-based writer who writes on a number of topics including race, sports and politics. Follow him on Twitter.