Nate Parker is a black man. Prior to becoming a familiar black face in Hollywood, he was an 18 year-old student athlete at a predominately white institution, at Penn State University. Before you go jumping down my throat about how his 17 year old rape allegations being made the center of attention now is not about bout race lets first look at the facts.
Nate Parker is the Writer, Director and lead Actor in the film, The Birth of a Nation. The film depicts the life of Nat Turner. Tuner was an enslaved preacher that led the quest for justice and freedom by executing a historic 48 hour violent rebellion against white oppressors in Southampton County. The film is controversial for more reasons than one.
First, its not the typical film that gets green lit in Hollywood. The film features an artistic recollection of history of a black man leading a group of other black men in a bloody revolt against white oppression in 1831. In sharp contrast to the norm, Turner does not seek peace from the hands of his oppressors; he does not advocate for peace and equality; and he does not advocate for non- violent remedies. Instead, he decides to not only use the gospel but also fight fire with fire which leads to a massive bloodshed. The revoltÂ led to the death of 55-65 whites. In retaliation the murder of Â roughly 200 free and enslaved blacks that even lacked involvement resulted.
Parker who credits his knowledge of Nat’s story to an African American course that he took at Oklahoma University, has been adamant on bringing Turner’s story to the big screen. He went as far as threatening his agent that he would not return to acting until he played Turner in a film. Unable to find traditional funding he decided to put up $100,00 of his own money, and get funding from the likes of Michael Finley and star Point Guard, Tony Parker among others. The film premiered in competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2016 and after a competitive bidding war between several studio’sÂ Fox Searchlight Pictures bought worldwide rights to the film in a $17.5 million deal. The deal is the largest deal at the film festival to date.
Enough about the film let’s go back to a questionable night in the year 1999, when Nate Parker allegedly raped a young lady. Parker was a freshman on the wrestling team at Penn State University on a full athletic scholarship. He met a young lady that will be referred to as Jane Doe.
August 1999– Parker and Doe decide to hang outÂ in her dorm roomÂ after a recent introduction and Doe performs oral sex on Parker after suggesting that she â€œdidnâ€™t want to have sex, but didnâ€™t want to leave it at nothing.â€
August 20, 1999 -Doe and Parker meet for drinks and Parker invites Doe to his apartment for the night suggesting that she’s too drunk to return back to campus. Doe then claims that she fell asleep in Parker’s bed and wakes up to him having intercourse with her. She alleges that Parker and his black roommate,Jean McGianni Celestin rapes her, although she also engages in sex with Parker the morning after the encounter.
October 17, 1999– Â With the help of police the accuser secretly records a telephone conversation with Parker in which he states that she “didn’t seem drunk. Doe tells Parker that her menstrual cycle is late. Parker contends that he used protection but she replies, “not in the morning.” Parker states that “he had nothing wrong to apologize for.”
October 13, 1999– Doe reports incident to the State College Pennsylvania Police after receiving counseling from the university.
October 18, 1999– Police conduct interviews questioning both Parker and Celestin. Parker states that the interrogating officer, yells at him saying, “You wrestlers rape this town.”
October 21, 2016– Parker and Celestin are charged with sexual assault, indecent assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and rape. Parker posts $25, 000 bail. A week later Doe reports the incident to the University and according to the University’s newspaper both defendants are suspended from the wrestling team.
November 17, 1999– Doe attempts to commit suicide after accusing both defendants of harassing her. She attempts suicide again six years days later.
January, 2000– Doe leaves the university but remains in state college.
October 5, 2001– After a 3-day trial featuring evidence for both sides, Parker is acquitted of all charges, while Celestin is found guilty.
November 21, 2001– Though charges warrant a mandatory three to six years, Celestin is sentenced to six to 12 months in a county prison. His sentence is delayed to allow him toÂ graduate from Penn State.
December 7, 2001– Celestin is expelled from Penn State for two years with the possibility to graduate following his expulsion.
December 2, 2002– Penn State settles law suit with alleged victim for $17, 500 without admitting fault. The university also agrees to adjust its policies regarding harassment.
May 2, 2003– Celestin cites incompentent counsel and appeals his sentence. His motion is denied and the Pennsylvania Superior Court orders remands the case back down to trial judge, ordering the judge to hand down a longer sentence after deeming the first sentence â€œunreasonable.â€ The courtâ€™s decision read: â€œOn remand, we remind the trial court that its sentence must reflect not just the rehabilitative needs of Mr. Celestin, but also the gravity of the offense and protection of the public.â€
May 2003– Parker graduates from Oklahoma University, where he transferred to, after Celestin’s sentencing
March 30, 2004– Celestin is resentenced to two to four years in prison
2004– Parker lands his first big break on the television series, Cold Case
October 2005– Celestin appeals his rulingÂ again, this time arguing ineffective representation during his first trial. AÂ judge orders a second trial for the case, but the case is eventually thrown out after the accuser decides not to testify. His conviction is overturned and he is also exonerated. That same year, Parker appears in his first film,Â Cruel World
December 23, 2007– Parker scoresÂ Parkerâ€™s acting careerÂ big roles in Pride and what Denzel Washington referred to as “a chance of a lifetime,” in theÂ The Great Debaters.While doing press for the latter film, the rape charges come to light in an interview.
April 12, 2012-Â While at a rehab facility, Doe commits suicide after overdosing on sleeping pills.Â Her brother later tellsÂ VarietyÂ that while thereâ€™s no direct link between her suicide and the alleged rape, it did have a negative affect on her. â€œIf I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,â€ the brother, who identifies himself as Johnny, said. â€œThe trial was pretty tough for her.â€
2014– Nate Parker finally secures enough money to start production on Birth of Nation after petitioning for funding and gaining funds from outside investors such as Tony Parker and Michael Finley. Development begins forÂ Birth of a Nation andÂ actors like Armie Hammer and Gabrielle Union join the cast in months thereafter.
May 2015-Â Birth of a NationÂ is filmed over the course of 27 days in Savannah, Georgia.
January 2016–Birth of a NationÂ premieres at the Sundance Film Festival and wins both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Prize. Shortly after, Fox Searchlight purchases the rights to the movie for $17.5 million, a record-breaking deal for the festival.
August 16, 2016-Parker publishes a statement about his accuser’s death, claiming that he recently became aware of it.
â€œI myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow. I canâ€™t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I canâ€™t help but think of all the implications this has for her family. I cannot nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. 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.â€
Now we are in November, 2016 and the film has been released as it was iniatially poorly received, after making only 7.1 million in its first week and 15.1 million to date. The film clearly did not fare as well as previously expected but why?
Nate Parker the “rapist?”
Whoa there! Why for Christ sakes is everyone condemning this man and calling him such thing when he was acquitted of all charges? Did you read the transcript? I did and quite frankly I believe that the courts actually got it right Â with thier verdict. Though George Zimmerman and many police officers proves that is not always the case, I do find it to be here. After being accused of raping a white woman, in the middle of Pennsylvania, after appearing in front of a jury that was likely not of his peers, I find it very far-fetched that the courts would have cleared him of all charges had evidence been sufficient enough to prove guilt.
Nate maintains that the sex was consensual, however the accuser and others suggest that she was too intoxicated to legitimately give consent. That’s where it gets a bit blurry, as Nate not only had sex with her but he also invited his friend, Jean Celestin (Co-Writer of Birth of a Nation) to engage in sex with her as well. Now was this morally wrong and disgusting? Yes, I believe so but I also realize a moral wrong is not necessarily a legal wrong. As much as we personally may disapprove of threesomes and group sex, the fact of the matter is that they happen and some time all parties involved are willing participants. As a graduate from a predominately white institution, I personally saw these events occur with many athletes and women determined to engage in sexual activity with them. Unfortunately, consenting parties do not get to falsely claim rape after he/she becomes upset or embarrased about what he/she consented to. There is no vidinctive and spiteful blame that should be honored in those situations.
Does rape actually do happen? Absolutely, and it is a very unfortunate thing, but in this case in particular our criminal justice system determined that no rape was evident. As a result, I do not believe that it is fair that we criminalize the exonerated out of response to one not apologizing or being sensitive in a manner that we deem acceptable.
I do not mean to sound insensitive, as I realize that a life is gone, however I find it problematic to blame the exonerated as the reason as to why that life is gone. The encounter occurred in 1999, the accuser committed suicide in 2012. After that troubling night in 1999, the “victim,” went on to have a child, and Nate went on to establish a successful career in Hollywood. Seemingly they both moved on from that dark night, but that has not stopped many from directly correlating her suicide to Nate Parker. Numerous of us have decided that the jury got it wrong, and Parker is in fact guilty of sexually taking advantage of Doe.
Media reports about Parker’s rape allegations released so close to release date of Birth of a Nation, doomed possible box office sales with a strong grip. I am no conspiracy theorist but I find it extremely coincincidental that a 17 year-old rape case resurfaces right before the Director and Writer is set to release a biopic about a run away slave leading a bloody rebellion for freedom against whites. Considering this Writer and Director has acted in multiple star studded films prior to, why was it so imperative that the world discussed his past at this moment? Â Once news of Parker’s rape case hit the net, support for Birth of a Nation began toÂ decrease quicker than Kevin Durant changing his team uniform.
I cannot help but to believe that the sudden emergence of Nate Parker’s past legal encounter was nothing but an attempt of an intentional smear campaign against Parker’s character and the film’s possible financial success. Directly after the news hit, the topic of discussion became Parker’s rape case and not regarding Parker’s film about Nat Turner. Everyone’s attention was diverted to Parker’s alleged rape and his response about it. Nate did not owe anyone an explanation or apology but that did not stop him from being found guilty in the court of public opinion. What I believe to be planned sabatoge, worked as effective as systematic oppression in inner cities across America. Bloggers, Journalists and some celebrities persuaded us to boycott the film. Some encouraged us to take a stance against rape culture and Nate Parker by pulling support from Birth of a Nation. How many rape victims the boycott liberatedÂ or possible future rapes that prevented is unknown. I can confidently guess the number is zero.
â€œI cannot separate the art and the artist, just as I cannot separate my blackness and my continuing desire for more representation of the black experience in film from my womanhood, my feminism, my own history of sexual violence, my humanity,â€~Roxane Gay
Do you know what it’s like to be black and accused? To be black and accused seemingly is to be black and guilty. Even exoneration brings a sentence, no matter how long ago the allegation was. Unlike the saying, “no one remembers the loser or runner up,” “people will always be reminded of the accused.” Like serving your time in prison, felons often serve another sentence outside or prison caused by the disenfranchisement that comes with being a convicted felon. In other words, paying a debt to society never completes. Being accused and exonerated brings similar infinite punishment. To merely be charged with such heinous crimes like rape can be just as damaging as actually being found guilty of those crimes. Simple association and doubt raises likely guilty in the minds of most. Perhaps its human subconscious but that does not make it fair or accurate.
To criminalize the accused and exonerated is to make ourselves judge and jury, when often times we lack qualifications and complete evidence to do such thing. How would you feel if you were found not guilty of crime that you were falsely accused of in your past and people expected you to be apologetic and relive that negativity when its convenient for them for you to do so? How incredibly annoying and unfortunate right? Furthermore how would you feel if you were forced to talk about it after making the biggest film of your life which you fought to get made?
The truth of the matter is, this film was bigger than Nate Parker but our inability to separate man from art, hindered us from supporting a bigger cause. A cause that was worth our stories making it to the big screen and worth our return support. Rather,Â Parker was inaccurately acquitted or not was not going to be remedied by black people’s absence from viewing, Birth of a Nation.
All a boycott did was dilute a profound artistic contribution and broadcast a public disownment of one of the few black creatives that had shown commitment to positively contribute to our culture and historic record. Speaking of historic record, I have heard many criticize the inaccuracies of Parker’s recollection of the life of Turner in Birth of a Nation.” Unfortunately, I am not aware of any film based on a true story that is 100% accurate. Â I also have yet to see anyone boycott Christopher Columbus Day out of response to the lack of accuracy told about his discoveries of The America’s. Perhaps people select their battles with malice intent and sabotage only when it revolves black progressiveness and liberation. The criminalization of black men is never too late but always timely, just ask Bill Cosby.
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