Nate Parker, the embattled star-director-writer-producer of the Nat Turner slave-uprising drama The Birth of a Nation, appears on 60 Minutes in his first major network interview after Deadline revealed that a 17-year-old gang rape allegation would become a major issue for a film that seemed a prohibitive favorite for a Best Picture nomination going into the fall. Just as when Deadline first interviewed Parker in person, there was awkwardness in the idea that he had to apologize, and that still seems to be the case. “I was falsely accused. … I went to court … I was vindicated,” he tells Anderson Cooper. “I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here … her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is – no.”
Parker stood trial and was acquitted of rape charges brought in 1999 by a Penn State classmate who said that Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin, had raped her while she was unconscious; Parker has claimed the act was consensual. Celestin initially was convicted of sexual assault, but that was overturned on appeal and wasn’t retried. The woman, who claimed she subsequently was harassed by Parker and Celestin, attempted suicide after the incident and dropped out school. She killed herself 12 years later.
The network’s PR is playing up the no-apology angle, which probably won’t help Fox Searchlight’s continuing effort to take the focus off Parker and on a film it paid $17.5 million to acquire in a record Sundance Film Festival deal. He says in the interview it would be unfortunate if people stayed away from his new historical epic. Parker said he hopes that moviegoers won’t be thinking about him when they see the film: “I think that Nat Turner, as a hero, what he did in history, is bigger than me. I think it’s bigger than all of us.”
When Cooper presses him about the incident at Penn State and whether his actions were morally wrong, Parker says: “As a Christian man … just being in that situation, yeah, sure. I am 36 years old right now … my faith is very important to me … so looking back through that lens … it’s not the lens I had when I was 19 years old.”
Watch an excerpt from the 60 Minutes interview above.