by G. Brown
Director Nate Parker had hoped everyone would be talking about his movie “The Birth of a Nation” which is slated to open in another month and a half. The film focuses on America’s ugly, dark history of slavery and the rebellion Nat Turner led against it. Instead, people are talking about Parker’s own dark history and his charges as a rapist.
Parker was accused of raping a fellow Penn State student in seventeen years ago in 1999. Parker along with his college roommate and wrestling team partner Jean Celestin were accused of raping an 18 year old girl in their apartment after a night of drinking. The victim claimed she was unconscious when Parker and Celestin raped her though both men claim she consented to the encounter. The women claims after she reported the crime, Parker and Celestin stalked and harassed her to the point that she was “afraid for life” according to family members. The jury acquitted Parker because he and the victim had consensual sex prior to the incident, but Celestin was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to six months behind bars. Fours years ago, the victim killed herself at the age of 30. Her brother told Variety Magazine that the incident haunted his sister as she tried to move forward in life. But she never seemingly recovered. He said he watched his”sister’s life slowly crumble”. At the time of her suicide, she was diagnosed with PTSD according to her brother.
This week as the media focus swirls around his past, Parker wrote of his “profound sorrow” as a”human being” for his part in causing the victim so much pain. You can read the full letter on Parker’s Facebook page, but in it he said “While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
Parker went on to write about how much he has changed since that incident when he was 19 years old saying he’s” grown and matured”. He said, ” I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in.”
The director said he has never run from this period in his past and never will but wanted to address it so others know the truth. In humility, Parker asked the public to “accept this letter as my response to the moment.” The moment is a time of scandal, negative publicity and controversy just weeks away from the biggest movie of his career. The studio backing “The Birth of a Nation” could have played a part in Parker’s appeal to the public or he simply could have wanted to address all the chatter and buzz once and for all to avoid repeated media calls for interviews. Still, bringing it out in the open doesn’t settle it once and for all as followers quickly posted responses.
Just one last footnote, Celestin, the room mate who was found guilty in the rape case, was also co-writer on “The Birth of A Nation” movie. The sad underlying irony here is that the original 1915 D.W. Griffith film “The Birth of a Nation” caused controversy for portraying Black men in a horribly degrading depiction as among other things, sexually aggressive beasts who only wanted to rape White women. The controversy of rape that surrounded the original film has managed to attach itself in a different way to Parker’s re-telling of it.
What do you think…should people accept Parker’s words at face value as a man who is adopting the tagline of his film and trying to confront the past in order to heal? Or do you think Parker is just trying to clear the air so more people will support his movie?