Conspicuously absent from the newly released list of press conferences for the Toronto International Film Festival: Nate Parker and The Birth of a Nation. After some technical difficulties, the festival finally had its full schedule online Wednesday morning.
TIFF promises several screenings of Parker’s film, including back-to-back screenings at 8 PM Friday, September 9, at the Winter Garden theater and 9 PM at the Visa Elgin screening room. But a festival list of nine press conferences — including those for such high-profile films as The Promise, Arrival and The Magnificent Seven — carries no word of a press session for The Birth of a Nation.
“That’s definitive, it’s definitely not going to happen,” a spokeswoman for the festival told Deadline when queried about missing conference.
Fox execs said, however, that Parker will join the cast in doing press junket interviews at Toronto on the weekend of September 10 and 11.
To avoid questions at Toronto is another sign of deep trouble for the Fox Searchlight film, which has been under pressure from a raging discussion of a 1999 rape charge against Parker and the film’s co-creator Jean McGianni Celestin when the two were students at Penn State University. Parker was acquitted, and Celestin, though convicted of sexual assault, prevailed on appeal. But new attention to the encounter and subsequent trial have turned the discussion around Sundance sensation The Birth of a Nation from issues of racial oppression to those of sexual assault.
Michelle Hooper, EVP Marketing at Fox Searchlight — which paid $17.5 million for Birth at Park City — downplayed the lack of a press session. “Rarely do we do press conferences at TIFF for films that are not a world premiere,” she told Deadline via email today. “Last year, for example, we did not do a PC for Brooklyn because it was a Sundance premiere/acquisition; the only film we actually did one for last year was Demolition, and that’s because it was their Opening Night Film (and world premiere). Nate is attending and there are Q&As with cast and filmmakers after most screenings during the festival including its TIFF premiere.”
Parker is supposed to present the film at colleges and elsewhere after its Toronto showing. But the TIFF screening had promised to be his first open session with the press since the old charges resurfaced. Now it’s off the table, according to the festival.
On Tuesday night, the American Film Institute told its fellows that it had canceled a planned Friday screening and Q&A with Parker, instead promising a later screening of the film and a discussion of race and gender, among other things.