Gabrielle Union is expressing sorrow over the fallout from her film “The Birth of a Nation.’ The actress had hoped the historical drama would inspire a conversation about rape and sexual assault, as she wrote in an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times.
“It is my hope that we can use this as an opportunity to look within,” she said in the piece. “To open up the conversation. To reach out to organizations which are working hard to prevent these kinds of crimes.”
However, controversy overshadowed the movie’s Oct. 7 release due to the resurrection of rape accusations against the film’s star, filmmaker Nate Parker. In 1999, Parker was charged and went to trial in connection with the alleged rape of a fellow Penn State student. A jury cleared him in 2001, but he was forced to repeatedly address the issue throughout the promotion of ‘Nation.’
Union, who played a rape victim in the film, said the controversy was why she ultimately was unable to bring sexual assault issues and talks centered on Black liberation to new audiences as she had hoped.
“This is something we all signed up for with this very specific goal,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “Black liberation. Black resistance from the perspective of a sexual assault survivor. And we don’t even get to talk about that.”
After the film, Union planned to spread her message, aiming to become the poster woman for rape victims.
“I was going to then go on a press tour and be able to say all the things that I’ve wanted to say, that I’ve been saying for the past 25 years — whether that be testifying before Congress or state legislatures — to the biggest audience I was ever going to get to listen to me talk about sexual assault, and the history of sexual assault being used as a weapon of mass destruction against Black female bodies.”
Union noted that even her co-stars, specifically Aja Naomi King who played Nat Turner’s wife, Cherry, lost their ‘big’ moment.
“I look at Aja,” she said. “She so deserves people to see her performance. She’s such a feminist. She’s this young dynamo. This could have been her big break. This big job that gives her the accolades and attention that she deserves. It’s like we all got thrown out. It’s like the baby and the bathwater all went down the drain.”
Union’s remarks point to the vile history of white supremacy in America. Slave codes enacted during the 17th century designated Black women as property. Because of that, white men couldn’t legally rape them. Such codes served as a way to control Black people and the stigma surrounding Black women and rape persists today. LaVena Johnson, a U.S. Army soldier, died on a military base in Iraq in 2005. The Army listed her death as a suicide but her family maintains that someone raped and murdered her, according to Atlanta Black Star.