Those who are used to see Jason Stuart performing gay stand-up comedy or appearing in edgy independent films are in for a big surprise. In the new film "The Birth of A Nation," Stuart, an openly gay, Jewish supporter of LGBT equality and civil rights, will portray Joseph Randall, a white, Christian slave owner.
"Joseph is a racist," Stuart tells SFGN, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles home. "He's a product of his time. A married man with children, with a black child on the side."
"The Birth of a Nation" tells the true story of Nat Turner (Nate Parker, who also directed) a slave who led a slave rebellion in 1831 which resulted in a number of white deaths. White militias retaliated by killing scores of slaves--Turner died in November of that year at age 31. The film's trailer, now posted at YouTube, features a number of disturbing images, including Turner being whipped, and a white girl leading her black friend on a leash.
"It's important to show these things," Stuart said. "To learn from history. "Never forget, say the Jews about the Holocaust. Silence Equals Death, said ACT UP. Yet we tell the black community to 'get over it.' We have never given the appropriate grieving time to those who have been treated horrifically."
And though he performed in scenes which viewers might find shocking, Stuart said that "The Birth of a Nation" set was a harmonious one. "The black actors were so supportive of me," he recalls. "People are glad that this story is being told."
Stuart explained how he could find a character which is so unlike himself. "Armie Hammer plays a younger plantation owner," Stuart said. "I used all my techniques as an actor--I played an older man mentoring a younger man. I did not judge my character."
Some people have asked the actor if "The Birth of a Nation" would draw comparisons to the legendary, same named Civil War epic which was directed by DW Griffith a century ago. Stuart assures us that the title is the only thing the two films have in common. "Griffith's film was propaganda," he said. "It brought back the KKK and caused murders--it was very similar to what Trump is now doing."
The new film, according to Stuart, shows oppressed people beginning to think for themselves.
The role was a long time coming for Stuart, a talented performer with a wide range who's had to deal with being labeled a "gay" actor. "It's the limitations people put on you," he said. "People thought I was limited--I never thought I was limited. This will show that I can play something different. It shows that I have range."
Stuart assures us that he won't be abandoning his roots. His stand-up shows will continue, and he can also be seen in "Hush Up Sweet Charlotte," gay director Billy Clift's homage to the classic Bette Davis chiller "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" (1965).
"I play a British journalist, played by Cecil Kellaway in the original," Stuart said. "I look like a cross between Hercules Poirot and Pee Wee Herman. It's laugh out loud funny--it's got wonderful kitch value. I loved working on it and that comes across."
Stuart will continue performing his monthly stand-up gig at The Purple Room in Palm Springs, where his show is called "I'm Only Gay On the Weekends." He explains the title.
"It's too much to have to be gay every day. You have to worry about your clothes, about being witty, it's exhausting!" he said. He'd rather spend the week finding Mr. Right--he's accepting boyfriend applications now! To apply, please check out Stuart's website: http://www.jasonstuart.com/
"The Birth of a Nation" opened Oct. 7.