Watch: How Did the Stars of The Birth of a Nation Practice Self-Care While Shooting This Intense Film?

Because portraying slavery and reliving the brutalization of black bodies is traumatic.

Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union Screenshot

Black trauma stems back as far back as slavery. Knowing that our ancestors were treated worse than animals—brutalized, dehumanized and demeaned—and that this terrible legacy of racism has carried on to our modern and “progressive” times is a painful truth that we must face every day.

When movies like The Birth of a Nation are made, many black people often express exhaustion and refuse to see them or criticize their violent depiction of slavery without even seeing them. And for those of us who choose to watch, our eyes, minds and hearts are filled with the imagery of agonizing hate, but it’s still a form of entertainment. It’s emotionally draining entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless.

Rarely do we think of the actors in these films portraying such brutal roles. The Birth of a Nation took only 27 days to film. For the actors, it was a month of being immersed in a world from which black people have fought so hard to stay away.

Having to depict slavery has to be tough on actors, but Nate Parker, Colman Domingo, Gabrielle Union, Aunjanue Ellis and Aja Naomi King—and even the white actors who played slave masters, Penelope Ann Miller and Armie Hammer—needed to practice self-care in order to heal while playing these roles in The Birth of a Nation. So I asked them what their self-care rituals were during filming, and they shared how they got through filming The Birth of a Nation.

Danielle Young, The Root’s social-content producer, is pretty, witty, girly and worldly. One who likes to party but comes home early. Boldly telling stories with heart, sass and humor. Prince once called her “excellence.” Follow her on Twitter.