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.
They trying to crucify Nate Parker while Woodie Allen and Roman Pokanski keep flourishing.
— 김현 (@HyunINC) August 15, 2016
Nate Parker situation is petty and suspect in timing. Found innocent and not guilty in 2001 of rape. Fox trying to Bill Cosby him? Smh!
— Mark (@TweetGODRight) August 15, 2016
Pen Griffey blamed sabotage.
I think it's strange for Nate Parker's rape acquittal to come back out right when he's made a movie about a black man white people hate.
— Pen Griffey, Jr. ✍ (@ErrBodyLuvsCris) August 16, 2016
While Uncle Lu called it an “unfortunate” situation.
This Nate Parker rape situation is so unfortunate n crazy. Dude was about 2 be on top now everyone's perception of him will change.
— Uncle Lu (@MusiQ_is_myLady) August 15, 2016
And @Malcolm_FleXX thought the rape acquittal was enough for others to “leave that man alone.”
Nate Parker was acquitted of those charges, & y'all ain't got no evidence at all to say he guilty. Leave that man alone.
— MISSISSIPPI (@Malcolm_FleXX) August 16, 2016
@VoyageToBisa pointed out Parker can still “be trash and make a good product.”
Nate Parker is a reminder that you can be trash and make a good product. Your talents should not stop someone else from receiving justice
— Susie Carmichael (@VoyageToBisa) August 15, 2016
Still, some made light of the situation.
Hobbes humorously took pleasure in Parker’s demise.
The rise and fall of Nate Parker is playing out on my timeline. Pls hold pic.twitter.com/nMbiW6lYts
— Hobbes (@flawedfacade) August 15, 2016
And @applecrumbleg showed what could be going on in Fox Searchlight studios amid the public relations crisis.
— gip gip grant (@applecrumbleg) August 15, 2016
But others disagree with Parker’s past actions.
Sean Durham questioned anyone who could defend the father of five.
how anyone could read that Nate Parker court deposition and defend him is beyond me but that hasnt stop the rape capes
— Sean Lester Durham (@SeanLDurham) August 16, 2016
A$AP Aspie thought Black men defending the 36-year-old were akin to white men.
I wonder if the BM claiming Nate Parker's r*pe charge was too long ago or that his movie is more important know they sound like white men ??
— A$AP Aspie (@ProfessorBLove) August 15, 2016
Aside from Parker’s acquittal, Shell pointed out a disturbing part of the trial transcript.
I read the Nate Parker transcript n even if he was acquitted he invited his friend 2 run a train on her while she was unconscious?disgusting
— Shell (@M_Diamond24) August 15, 2016
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.”