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Success of ‘Birth of a Nation’ Hinges on Public Perception of Nate Parker’s Past 

Nate Parker (The YBF/Instagram)

Nate Parker (Instagram)

A resurfaced rape trial against “The Birth of a Nation” star Nate Parker has studio executives scrambling to re-think promotional plans for the film. Parker – who wrote and directed the film – addressed the 17-year-old claim in an interview last week. The rape allegations re-emerged amid the growing attention surrounding the indie flick.

Parker addressed the circumstances surrounding the case while speaking to Variety.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker explained. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

Parker and his Nation co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of raping a female student after going out drinking. The incident occurred during their time as students and wrestlers at Penn State and went on trial in 1999. Parker was acquitted in 2001, while Celestin was found guilty of assaulting the 18-year-old. Both he and Parker maintained the sex was consensual, but the alleged victim said she was unconscious.

Ultimately the now-filmmakers were suspended from the wrestling team, Parker transferred to another college and the female student dropped out of college and settled with Penn State for $17,500 in separate litigation.

The film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, is now reassessing the press plan. A source told Variety executives are reviewing the fallout on African-American websites and other news outlets. One consideration is not to grant any more interviews with Parker until the movie’s Toronto Film Festival debut next month. Studio heads hope the star can put the controversy behind him ahead of the Oct. 7 national premiere.

On Twitter, users voiced support for the star.

@HyunINC found the outcry hypocritical.

Mark accused the distributor of making him the new Bill Cosby. The reference relates to the comedian’s sexual assault allegations that tarnished his career.

Pen Griffey blamed sabotage.

While Uncle Lu called it an “unfortunate” situation.

And @Malcolm_FleXX thought the rape acquittal was enough for others to “leave that man alone.”

@VoyageToBisa pointed out Parker can still “be trash and make a good product.”

Still, some made light of the situation.

Hobbes humorously took pleasure in Parker’s demise.

And @applecrumbleg showed what could be going on in Fox Searchlight studios amid the public relations crisis.

But others disagree with Parker’s past actions.

Sean Durham questioned anyone who could defend the father of five.

A$AP Aspie thought Black men defending the 36-year-old were akin to white men.

Aside from Parker’s acquittal, Shell pointed out a disturbing part of the trial transcript.

Regardless of the criticism, the studio supports the filmmaker.

“Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State,” it 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.”

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