The premiere of The Birth is a Nation went off without a hitch – and without any protesters. Perhaps audiences – and Oscar voters – will decide that it should be judged on its own merits and not on the long ago allegation the film’s director, Nate Parker, and story co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin, raped a fellow student at Penn State.
Parker was acquitted at the end of the 2001 trial, and Celestin’s conviction for sexual assault was later overturned and the case was never retried. But with the buzz surrounding The Birth of a Nation since the film’s Sundance premiere, the story resurfaced, threatening to derail the film’s Oscar hopes, particularly after it became known that the accuser committed suicide in 2012. But the matter wasn’t on the minds of many people attending the premiere.
Asked if she’d heard about the accusations, a young woman standing in line for the movie shook her head and said, “I don’t know anything about that.” Asked the same question, an older African American gentleman looked incredulous and asked, “Don’t you have the Internet?” Walking to enter the theater, he then paused and said: “at the moment, we’re trying not to think about that. at the moment, we”re trying to think about the film and the filmmaker.”
There were lots of police, paparazzi, private security and a bomb-sniffing dog named Bo on hand for the premiere however. Police presence was “not unusual” for this type of event, said one officer, who was unaware of any controversy surrounding the film. Half a dozen uniformed cops were stationed outside the Dome, and one stood sentry at the door.
Asked why a bomb-sniffing dog was needed, Bo’s handler shrugged and said, “They asked me to come so I came.”