Nate Parker is trying to get in front of what could potentially be a damning blow to his new film, The Birth of a Nation. The actor is opening up about a rape charge that was filed against him 17 years ago. Last week, Parker, with Fox Searchlight’s support, spoke with Variety and Deadline and shared his side of the story before someone else digs it up, and ruins the film’s chance at Oscar contention.
Speaking to a Deadline reporter at his home about why he’s talking about it now, Parker said:
“I was sure it would come up. It is there, on my Wikipedia page, the Virginia Pilot … I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years removed from one of the most painful … [he wells up at the memory] moments in my life. And I can imagine it was painful, for everyone. I was cleared of everything, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of living, and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.”
According to Deadline, which published transcripts from the trial (you can read them HERE), in 1999, Parker and his roommate Jean McGianni Celestin (who co-wrote The Birth of a Nation with him) were charged with raping an 18-year-old female while attending Penn State University in their apartment after a night of drinking.
At trial, the woman testified she was intoxicated and unconscious through much of the encounter and upset to find she had experienced unwanted sex with Parker — though she acknowledged having willingly engaged in oral sex with him during an encounter the day before.
Parker maintained that the sex was consensual, and in 2001, he was eventually acquitted. Meanwhile, Celestin was initially found guilty of sexual assault, and then the conviction was overturned after an appeal. Sadly, their accuser was forced to drop out of school, and after several attempts at suicide, took her own life at a drug rehabilitation center in 2012.
In an email Celestin said: “This was something that I experienced as a college student 17 years ago and was fully exonerated of. I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career. I have several exciting book and film projects that I am working on and that I am looking forward to.”
Fox Searchlight, which most recently steered Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman to Best Picture wins, is standing behind Parker. “Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State,” Searchlight said in a statement. “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.”
Parker not only stars, but also produced and financed the Nat Turner slave revolt drama. Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, and garnering a $17.5 million distribution deal, The Birth of a Nation has been considered a front-runner film in the Oscar race.
The film is slated for release Oct. 7th.
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