Gabrielle Union, who will be at the Toronto Film Festival later this month when Nate Parker’s Birth Of A Nation is screened and will take part in the press junket afterward, wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today. She noted that when she read all 700 pages of court documents from the 1999 rape charge against Parker and the film’s co-creator Jean McGianni Celestin, it sent her into “a state of stomach-churning confusion.”
Union, who co-stars in the film as a woman who was raped, said she did not take the news lightly because she herself was raped at gunpoint 24 years ago. She writes that she actually took the role so she could start a conversation about sexual violence.
“I took this role because I related to the experience,” Union writes, both as an actress and as a rape survivor. “I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.”
The Toronto screening will take place in only nine days, and Parker will be joined by Union and fellow cast members Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King and Penelope Anne Miller in what Fox is calling a video junket where questions will be fielded by them all.
“My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control,” she wrote. “It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform. When I am scared. Confused. Ashamed. I remember this part of myself and must reach out to anyone who will listen — other survivors, or even potential perpetrators.”
She said even after reading the court documents, she still doesn’t know what happened in the room that night 17 years ago but says that she believes the film gives her an opportunity to speak up, educate and inform others to try to prevent more incidents of violence like what happened to her. “I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence. To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary.” She also encouraged others to help victims of rape.
Celestin initially was convicted, but that was overturned on appeal, and his case was not retried. Parker was acquitted of the charge in 2001. The victim subsequently committed suicide after suffering through harassment and enduring a stressful trial.