In The Birth Of A Nation, Gabrielle Union—who is a sexual assault survivor herself—has a non-speaking role as a woman who endures a similar trauma. Union helped shape the role by requesting that her character have no dialogue, as she told Vulture after the film premiered at Sundance. “It’s just more symbolic of the lack of control or power that black women had, and have, over our own bodies,” she said. Union’s wordless statement was another sign of the impact the film could have had. But everything changed when it came to light that the film’s writer, director, and star Nate Parker was accused of sexual assault when he was in college along with Jean Celestin, who wrote the film with Parker. Parker was acquitted when the case went to trial; Celestin received a conviction, which was eventually overturned.
Now Union is sharing her reaction in an essay for the Los Angeles Times. “Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” she writes. She goes on to say that she “cannot take these allegations lightly,” questioning whether Parker had consent and noting that “by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said ‘no,’ silence certainly does not equal ‘yes.’” In a recent interview with Ebony, Parker talked about the extend to which he didn’t understand consent when he was 19.
Union, however, hopes that both the film, and, now the story attached to the film, lead to more awareness and action. She writes:
I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence. To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary.
Think of all the victims who, like my character, are silent. The girls sitting in their dorm rooms, scared to speak up. The wife who is abused by her husband. The woman attacked in an alley. The child molested. Countless souls broken from trans-violence attacks. It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real. Sexual violence happens more often than anyone can imagine. And if the stories around this film do not prove and emphasize this, then I don’t know what does.
Parker and the The Birth Of A Nation cast, including Union, is scheduled to appear at a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11. You can read the rest of Union’s piece here.