Last week when The Birth Of A Nation writer, director, producer and star Nate Parker faced a Deadline reporter to address 17-year old charges he and the film’s co-story writer had raped a woman while all of them were students at Penn State (she claimed they had sex with her after she had passed out while they claimed the encounter was consensual), he vowed not to run from responsibility even though he had been found not guilty. Now that word surfaced that the woman killed herself 13 years later — trial records disclosed she had attempted suicide in the aftermath of a case that saw Parker declared not guilty and Jean McGianni Celestin’s initial conviction for sexual assault overturned on appeal — Parker has reportedly addressed the tragedy tonight in this Facebook post.
These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being.
I write to you all devastated…
Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions. These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved.
I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family.
I cannot- nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.
I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in.
I cannot change what has happened. I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life…
I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability.
All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.
I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement.
I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment.
Parker was responding to an interview with the victim’s brother in Daily Variety in which he discussed the toll the case had taken on his sister and her death, 13 years after the trial. As Deadline reported, the case caused heated battles on the Penn State campus, where some black supporters said Parker and Celestin were victims of false charges and treated poorly by the administration, while women’s advocates accused the university of failing to protect the alleged victim, who claimed she was harassed by the two men and who subsequently dropped out of school. In a 2002 complaint filed in the United States Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Women’s Law Project represented the woman in a “Jane Doe” suit against the university (read it here). It ultimately was settled for a small cash payment and a promise to review sexual harassment practices at the school, which later suffered massive humiliation when a football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with molesting eight boys between 1994-2000.
The deceased woman’s family issued a statement to The New York Times earlier this evening: “We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.”
The Birth Of A Nation is scheduled to be shown during the upcoming Toronto Film Festival, and it remains a question how it will be received there. The reception will certainly be different than the one the film received at Sundance last January, where it swept the Grand Jury and Audience Award prizes, and was acquired by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million for worldwide rights and set for release during awards season, on October 7.