Nate Parker: An activist first, then an actor

The rising star who plays a supporting role in Arbitrage believes movies are the new medium of literacy and places a huge emphasis on being in productions that carry the right messages

Arbitrage actor Nate Parker shines in the role of a young man trying to do the right thing but who gets trapped in the lies of a corrupt CEO. Sarah Dea / The National
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If you've watched the psychological thriller Arbitrage, which opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival on Thursday and is now screening in cinemas across the UAE, you'll no doubt have seen the fresh face of its rising star Nate Parker. In the film, Parker plays 23-year-old Jimmy Grant, a young man in Harlem trying to do good by himself only to become embroiled in the web of lies spun by Richard Gere's troubled corporate CEO, Robert Miller.

But while Parker plays his part as a 20-something with suitable aplomb, in reality he's a good decade older.

"Yeah, I'm 33 next month," he laughs, speaking at the Emirates Palace. "I'm riding this whole genetic thing out. My mother, God bless her, gave me good genes."

Despite his age, and nine years of acting, Parker has only really been making a name for himself very recently, with two stand-out performances already this year in George Lucas's Red Tails as a Second World War fighter pilot and as a gang member in Red Hook Summer by Spike Lee.

"I've done maybe 11 or 12 films so far, which is a low average," he says. "But I'm extremely careful to a fault about which roles I choose."

In 2007, Parker starred in The Great Debaters alongside Denzel Washington, who told him that as an artist, your career is dictated by your first five jobs.

"It was a daunting statement, because for your first five jobs you're just like: 'I wanna work, what can I do, hey put me in'," he says. "But it's so much more than that. I think if you can have discretion, especially in the beginning, then you've created a persona that people will accept. When they look at you they'll think: 'Oh, that's the guy who did these three movies that I like for these three reasons.' But it's a rough road."

Parker claims that acting is merely "a lens" to who he is. "I think it was Jackie Robinson who said: 'A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.' Because of that, I consider myself an activist first," he says. "Acting is a form of expression. People, especially young people, don't read as much as they should, so I feel like film is the new medium of literacy. We have a responsibility to put things on screen that will perpetuate the right kind of truth that will motivate the trajectory of our young people."

While he might not be appearing in a Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers any time soon, Nate Parker is most definitely a name to keep your eye out for.