The American Film Institute has tabled Friday’s planned screening of The Birth of a Nation, which was to be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker and star Nate Parker. The move comes as distributor Fox Searchlight deals with potential fallout from an old rape charge against Parker, of which he was acquitted in 2001.
AFI dean Jan Schuette announced the cancellation in a note to the film school’s fellows tonight. “I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” he wrote. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
He also noted that “Fox has agreed to host a screening of the film for us later in the year.”
The brewing controversy over Parker’s old case gathered steam earlier this month as Searchlight, which bought Birth of a Nation at Sundance for $17.5M, sought to protect its investment and the film’s likely Oscar chances by getting in front of the story. Parker met with Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. to talk about the 1999 incident at Penn State University and its subsequent legal proceedings. “The reality is, this is a serious issue, a very serious issue,” Parker told Deadline, “and the fact that there is a dialogue going on right now around the country is paramount. It is critical.”
Friday’s screening — planned for second-year students as part of the opening week of classes — instead will be Paramount’s sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, starring Tom Cruise. That showing will be followed by a Q&A with director Ed Zwick — an AFI board member who also was an exec producer on Birth of a Nation — and co-writer Marshall Herskovitz.