The forthcoming film The Birth of a Nation has faced major criticism due to the controversial past of its star and director, Nate Parker, who is now opening up in an explosive interview.
Parker spoke to Anderson Cooper for a 60 Minutes special airing Sunday about the 1999 rape case at Penn State University that has come back to haunt him as his film generates Oscar buzz.
Cooper asked: “Do you feel guilty about anything that happened that night?”
The director replied, “I do not feel guilty.”
Parker was acquitted. His roommate, Jean Celestin was found guilty but his conviction was later overturned on appeal.
The men remained friends and co-wrote the critically acclaimed film, which arrives in theaters next week.
In a clip from the upcoming 60 Minutes episode, Cooper asked: “Do you feel you did something morally wrong?”
“As a Christian man, just being in that situation, yeah sure. But I am 36 years old now and my faith is very important to me. So looking back through that lens, it's not the lens I had when I was 19 years old.”
The alleged victim spoke out in 2002 in an interview.
"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.
She took her own life in 2012 at age 30.
Parker took to Facebook in August and released a statement.
He said: “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."
On Thursday, her sister, Sharon Loeffler, ripped Parker and Celestin in an editorial that appeared in Variety magazine.
She wrote: “My sister was raped 60 days after her 18th birthday. She was a freshman at Penn State University. The defendants charged in the case, Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, were on the wrestling team and had the power of the Penn State Athletic Department behind them.
“She was harassed and hounded, and ended up dropping out. She had just aged out of the foster care system, so it was a big deal for her to go to college. She had a chance at a brand new life, but that was stolen from her.”
She also took an issue with a key plot line in The Birth of a Nation, which tells the story of an 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner.
She wrote: “This is fiction. I find it creepy and perverse that Parker and Celestin would put a fictional rape at the center of their film, and that Parker would portray himself as a hero avenging that rape. Given what happened to my sister, and how no one was held accountable for it, I find this invention self-serving and sinister, and I take it as a cruel insult to my sister’s memory.
“I think it’s important for people to know Nat Turner’s story. But people should know that Turner did not need rape to justify what he did. Parker and Celestin did not need to add that to Turner’s story to make him more sympathetic.”
In August, the victim’s brother, identified as Johnny, spoke to Variety, saying she committed suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills.
“She became detached from reality,” Johnny said. “The progression was very quick and she took her life.”
Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million to acquire The Birth of a Nation at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.