Nate Parker’s The Birth Of A Nation hits theaters on October 7; ahead of the wide release, the American Film Institute had scheduled a special screening of the film, to be followed by a Q&A with the director, for later this week. But Variety reports that the event has just been canceled over concerns surrounding the resurfacing of sexual assault allegations against Parker and one of his Birth Of A Nation collaborators.
In 1999, Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin were charged with sexual assault of a female classmate at Penn State. The woman said that they raped her while she was unconscious, while the men argued that the sex was consensual. Ultimately, Parker was acquitted and Celestin was convicted of sexual assault. Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case was never tried again after the alleged victim declined to testify again. Just last week, Parker learned that his accuser had committed suicide in 2012; her family has asked for privacy in this matter.
For now, it looks like the AFI wants to hold off on screening the film or hosting Parker until a discussion can be had among the students and faculty. Dean Jan Schuette, who’s embroiled in his own controversy over faculty dismissals and resignations, announced the institute’s decision yesterday.
“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together—messenger and message, gender, race and more—before we see the film. Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
Fox Searchlight has offered to reschedule the screening, though a date has not yet been confirmed.
UPDATE: Deadline is reporting that, despite lining up several screenings at the Toronto Film Festival next month, Fox Searchlight won’t be holding any press sessions for The Birth Of A Nation. The publication notes that the film is nowhere to be found on the festival’s list of press conferences, and that a spokesperson confirmed that “it’s definitely not going to happen.” But Michelle Hooper, executive vice president of marketing for Fox Searchlight, shrugged off the concerns, telling Deadline that the studio “rarely [does] press conferences at TIFF for films that are not a world premiere.”