Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Nate Parker Hopes College Sex Case Won’t Distract From his Film ‘The Birth of a Nation’

Nate Parker attends the The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) Annual Grants Banquet, in Beverly Hills, California, on August 4, 2016. / AFP / JEAN BAPTISTE LACROIX
Nate Parker attends the The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) Annual Grants Banquet, in Beverly Hills, California, on August 4, 2016.

* reports of a “brewing controversy” that may come back to haunt “The Birth of a Nation” director and star Nate Parker.

Memories of 17-year-old rape charges waged against both Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin (who shares co-story credit with Parker) while both were roommates at Penn State in 1999 left Fox Searchlight in full crisis mode these past weeks, scrambling to figure out how best to protect its sizable investment and Oscar chances by getting in front of a disclosure that is bubbling up in the mainstream press. The transcripts of the trial are public record and readily available, as Deadline discovered — the clerk there offered that numerous inquiries have been made recently — and the play by play is a sordid he-said-she-said affair that pitted a female student against Parker and Celestin. She claimed both men had sex with her after she had passed out in their room following a night of drinking. They claimed the encounter was consensual. Traumatized, she subsequently dropped out of college, and attempted suicide, per court documents. Parker, who had an earlier mutually willing sexual encounter with the student, was acquitted of the charges. Celestin was initially convicted, but that was overturned on appeal and his case was not retried.

According to Deadline, Fox Searchlight has been looking to get ahead of any “ late-season bombshells” that might affect Oscar voters later this year, particularly considering a pivotal scene in the film involves the brutal rape of Nat Turner’s wife Cherry, “which strikes a match that flares into murderous rebellion against white slave-holders and the institutionalized cruelty that has never been exposed to this level in a major film.”

Hours before receiving the prestigious Vanguard Award from the Sundance Institute, Parker invited a Deadline reporter to his home on Thursday (with Fox Searchlight’s blessing) to discuss the case head on:

He spoke about how he has grown as a man, a father and an artist since that night at Penn State. And how he is determined not to let his worthy film be defined by that case, lest it detract from his mission to use Turner’s story as a catalyst for discussion on the turbulence between blacks and whites that has roiled major cities across the country this year. He firmly believes some of these tensions are connected to that shameful chapter of slavery in America.

“My responsibility as a filmmaker, an actor, an artist and an American, is to say this period in history was more egregious than we were led to believe, and it had an impact on all of us,” Parker said of the film. “Frederick Douglass said, when I became free, I began to see the impact that slavery had not only on the slave, but on the slave master. My film doesn’t shake a film at someone for being born in the ’90s with pink skin. It says that because you were born in the ’90s, you have some stuff that might live in your heart and the hearts of those around you. Let’s collectively address that. For the person with brown skin, who was born in the ’80s or ’90s, you weren’t born into slavery in 1831, but we have all inherited stuff we didn’t create.”

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