Oscar Buzz Around 'Birth of a Nation' Dulled by Rape Acquittal Against Star, Who Also Directed It
As the anticipation builds for the upcoming The Birth of a Nation, the writer, director and star of the film is coming under fire as a past rape case has re-emerged.
All the buzz about the movie, which is about Nat Turner's famous slave revolt, is now being dampened by the explosive story that when Parker was in college at Penn State he was accused but later acquitted of raping a fellow student in 1999.
Parker and his college roommate Jean McGianni Celestin went to trial.
Celestin, who co-wrote The Birth of a Nation with Parker, was convicted of sexual assault but that verdict was later overturned. Both men testified it was a consensual encounter.
The victim spoke out in 2002 in an interview for a story about campus rape.
"I won't go on campus. I won't go to Walmart or the grocery store by myself. I won’t even go shopping alone," she said.
After filing charges against the two students, who were members of Penn State's wrestling team, she says she was harassed by people who heard the story.
"I’m in my hometown and I can't even feel safe. I'm in my hometown and I can't even go anywhere alone or without being fearful,” she said in the local news interview.
Tragically, the victim took her own life in 2012 at age 30.
“She became detached from reality,” Johnny said. “The progression was very quick and she took her life.”
On Tuesday, Nate Parker posted a statement on Facebook, saying: “I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment.”
Parker also added: "I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family."
Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million to acquire The Birth of a Nation at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
The film company released a statement about Parker’s past, saying they knew of the situation.
“Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”
In the wake of the scandal, a street artist known as Sabo has been plastering doctored images of the film’s poster around Los Angeles with the phrase “Rapist?” replacing “The Birth of a Nation” under Parker’s head which is being hung by an noose made from the American flag.