When Nate Parker’s directorial debut, The Birth Of A Nation, premiered at Sundance earlier this year, the dominant narrative surrounding the film was mostly about how it was going to win a whole bunch of awards come Oscars season. Now that narrative has been significantly complicated, as a dark incident in Parker’s past has come back to the surface.
In 1999, when he was a student at Penn State, Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin (who received a story credit on The Birth Of A Nation) were charged with sexually assaulting a female classmate. According to court documents, the woman charged that both men had raped her while she was unconscious after a night of drinking; both Parker and Celestin claimed the encounter was consensual. The case became a flash point at the university, resulting in a trial in which Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin, on the other hand, was found guilty, although he never served any jail time after a planned re-trial was dropped.
Perhaps ironically, it was Parker himself and his distributor Fox Searchlight who chose to “get ahead” of the charges by talking about them in a handful of interviews, like this one with Deadline, last week. Then The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that, after dropping out of school out of fear of seeing her assailants in campus, Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30. “She became detached from reality,” her brother said in an interview. “The progression was very quick and she took her life.”
Last night, Parker responded to the new revelations in a lengthy Facebook post:
We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.
The victim’s sister, though, takes issue with this stance, telling the Times that her sister would have wanted her suffering to inspire other victims of sexual assault to come forward. “These guys sucked the soul and life out of her,” she adds.