“Nate Parker: Rapist?” The Real Controversy Surrounding THE BIRTH OF A NATION
It could have been Nate Parker’s golden year. Instead, the big question on many minds, printed on posters all across LA: is Nate Parker a rapist? The director, co-writer and star of the upcoming historical drama THE BIRTH OF A NATION was accused of raping a college freshman 17 years ago. Parker’s roommate Jean Celestin reportedly took part in the activity. Both men stood a swift trial. While Nate Parker was dropped of all charges, Celestin served time, but was exonerated later. The effects on the accuser were so extreme that she committed suicide 13 years after the fact.
Jean Celestin later took part in creating THE BIRTH OF A NATION, which includes several incidents of sexual abuse. Mixed with the spectacular 17.5 million deal given to Parker for his film at this year’s Sundance, this sparked a major controversy. The fake posters for the film accusing Parker were reportedly made by a right-wing street artist (see above).
Last weekend, Parker spoke out in an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 MINUTES. “I’ll say this. I do think it’s tragic, so much of what happened and [what] the family had to endure with respect to this woman not being here. I don’t want to harp on this and be disrespectful of them, but at some point I have to say it: I was falsely accused. I went to court, and I sat in trial. I was vind— [choking up]. I was vindicated. I was proven innocent, and I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. Her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is — no.” (Quote taken from Variety).
Asked by Cooper if he regretted his decision to bring Celestin onto the project, Parker vehemently disagreed, pointing out that Celestin’s charges had later been found to be unwarranted.
So much for the loud, public part of the controversy. But there is another, perhaps more grueling one. Supporters of Parker and the film claim that “white Hollywood” is against THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Here’s what’s tricky about that argument: Fox Searchlight and The Weinstein Company, two major “white Hollywood” powerhouses, fought an epic bidding war over who would get to bring out this movie. The 17.5 million sale is one of the highest ever for an independently produced film. So, by all means, Hollywood wants this film to be successful.
There are of course racists in this country. And the street artist with his blunt imagery evoking a lynching may be one of them. But then, there is also the legion of Black anti-abuse activists who have been on the attack against Parker. Is their outrage justified? As for the charges against Parker and Celestin, the courts have spoken and the truth will never be known to anyone but them, since the alleged victim tragically ended her life.
But here’s the other unknown: how much do these allegations have to do with the film? Think about Woody Allen or Mel Gibson, both heavily burdened by past allegations of abuse. No one is hurling hate campaigns at their new releases. The question remains if Nate Parker is being treated unfairly, or if people are too soft on Allen and Gibson.
Article by SAM & CHRIS SILBER