*Oprah Winfrey was reportedly ready to help Nate Parker deal with the growing media interest in his 1999 rape charges when it first became an issue in August.
The TV legend and her bestie Gayle King of “CBS This Morning” were among the first to see Parker’s film “The Birth of a Nation” back in February, and even filmed an Instagram video offering congratulations.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Winfrey suggested in August that Parker address the brewing rape controversy in an interview with King on her CBS program. But Parker declined.
He was angry over what he saw as a consensual, youthful sexual experimentation gone wrong being brought up as an issue years later despite his acquittal, reports THR, and that it was happening just when his Nat Turner passion project was not only finished but positioned as a major Oscar contender.
Since then, Winfrey has been largely quiet regarding Parker. As THR notes, her vocal support “might have helped him move past persistent questions that seem to be overshadowing his movie and potentially undermining his career.”
Fox Searchlight, which paid a record $17.5 million for the film and hired consultants in an effort to help Parker get on message, is likely shifting its attention this awards season to “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman as the former first lady.
In the days leading up to his film’s opening, Parker did interviews on “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America.” In neither appearance was he willing or able to convey a clear and effective message of regret for long-ago mistakes or concern for his accuser, who committed suicide in 2012.
Asked by “GMA” co-host Robin Roberts about his seeming lack of empathy, Parker sidestepped the question, referring Roberts to comments he had made the previous evening on “60 Minutes” (another network’s show). When Roberts persisted, Parker declared, “I was falsely accused, I was proven innocent and I’m not going to apologize for that.” Unsurprisingly, that refusal to apologize — which to Parker is said to be a matter of staying true to himself — has been the focus of subsequent media reports during the key weeklong corridor leading up to today’s release of the film in 2,100 theaters.
To Amy Ziering, a producer on the 2015 campus-rape documentary “The Hunting Ground,” Parker has failed to address critical issues. “I had hoped that Parker’s discussion of the film and his past would address our culture’s toxic history of both racism and sexual/gender violence — and the ways these two issues importantly intersect,” she says in an email to THR. “Unfortunately, he has put forward a lot of carefully constructed rhetoric, which at times rings hollow and falls short.”
Director Judd Apatow also seems to point toward the road not traveled. “He has an opportunity to teach young men about the meaning of consent,” Apatow wrote on Twitter on Oct. 5. “He could do something that would help so many people.”
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