Birth of a Nation‘s Nate Parker was charged with raping a young woman in 1999 and Fox Searchlight is trying to confront a case that could ruin the movie.
Since Nate Parker won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prizes and landed a major movie deal with Fox Searchlight Pictures for his movie, Birth of a Nation, Parker has become an overnight success. His new movie centers around the Nat Turner led slave uprising in 1831 Virginia and many people argue Birth of a Nation is a frontrunner to win an Academy Award. However, a new controversy may derail all of those plans.
Nate Parker was charged with rape in 1999
According to Deadline, Nate Parker and his Penn State college roommate Jean McGianni Celestin were charged with rape. From Deadline:
She claimed both men had sex with her after she had passed out in their room following a night of drinking. They claimed the encounter was consensual. Traumatized, she subsequently dropped out of college, and attempted suicide, per court documents. Parker, who had an earlier mutually willing sexual encounter with the student, was acquitted of the charges. Celestin initially was convicted, but that was overturned on appeal and his case was not retried.
In the trial transcripts, the accuser reveals that she and Nate Parker initially met through her male friend Courtney, and describes an encounter with Nate in his room that happened the day before the alleged rape. The accuser appears to explain that she liked him and felt obligated to pleasure him when they had consensual sex. That portion of the transcript reads:
Q. So what happened?
A. He came up. Initially we spoke like he could help me unpack. I started unpacking. He was sitting down on my bed. He then asked me to sit beside him. I was putting away a red dress I do remember and he asked me to try it on and I told him no and he asked me to sit beside him. He started rubbing my neck, kissing my neck, kissing. We did kiss back and forth. I was wearing a skirt. He tugged at my panties and I pulled them back up and I said, no, I do not know you that well yet and instead I performed oral sex on him.
Q. Why did you perform oral sex on him?
A. I liked him, but I dont see that I mean at the time I did it because I didnt want to have sex, but I didnt want to leave it at nothing. I cant really explain it. Im not proud of it, but I saw it as being safer and not as big an issue.
As for the rape allegation, according to Deadline (the publication posted scans of court documents but chose not to name the accuser):
At trial, the woman testified she was intoxicated, unconscious through much of the encounter and upset to find she had experienced unwanted sex with Parker though she acknowledged having willingly engaged in oral sex with him during an encounter the day before. More, she said she was shocked on becoming briefly conscious to find in her mouth the penis of another man, who was later identified as Celestin.
Court papers also refer to a disturbing and shocking phone call (that transcript is here) between Parker, Celestin and the accuser, which was referenced in the trial.. Via Deadline (emphasis mine):
In a phone call taped without the permission of Parker or his roommate, the woman falsely claimed to be pregnant, in what she said was an attempt to get him to identify the third sexual partner in the room that night. The police later monitored a second call during which both Parker and Celestin generally admitted the sexual encounter but insisted it was consensual.
Im not try, trying to be mean, but, I felt like you put yourself in that situation, you know what I mean? said Parker. I really felt like I didnt do anything wrong.
The trial also featured testimony from another student who was a witness to the incident:
At trial, a third man, Tamerlane Kangas, testified that Parker waved him and Celestin to join him when they spied Parker and the woman having sex in the bedroom. While Celestin accepted the invitation, Kangas declined, and left the apartment. He was not charged with any crime. I didnt believe that four people at one time was you know, it didnt seem right, he testified.
Parker was later acquitted of sexually assaulting the 18-yea-old student in 20001 at his college, Penn State University.
The alleged rape victim committed suicide
Monday reports revealed that the unnamed woman took her own life four years ago. Parker revealed that he had been unaware of this tragic ending. The alleged rape victim committed suicide in 2012 by ingesting over 200 pills.
I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow, he wrote. I cant tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I cant help but think of all the implications this has for her family.
Shortly after Parker posted this to Facebook, the family of the alleged victim issued a statement to The New York Times.
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, the womans family said. 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 rape accuser’s brother recently opened up to Variety to discuss the Nate Parker.
Her death certificate, obtained by Variety, stated that she suffered from major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse .
If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point, Johnny told Variety. He said that prior to entering college, his sister was an outgoing, popular girl who loved animals and school. He envisioned a career in marketing or media for her. The trial was pretty tough for her, he said.
Her brother also argued that if the trial would have happened today, Nate Parker would be behind bars.
I think by todays legal standards, a lot has changed with regards to universities and the laws in sexual assault, he said. I feel certain if this were to happen in 2016, the outcome would be different than it was. Courts are a lot stricter about this kind of thing. You dont touch someone who is so intoxicated period.
He continued by saying the ghosts haunted her until her death.
She moved around frequently and tried to hold a job. She had a boyfriend. She gave birth to a young boy. That brought her a good bit of happiness. I think the ghosts continued to haunt her.
Fox Searchlight Pictures is trying to save ‘Birth of a Nation’
Now, according to Deadline, Fox Searchlight Pictures is trying to figure out a way to protect their multi-million dollar investment and as Deadline pointed out “there are no secrets during awards season”
Having become fully aware of those old charges in the months since it bought the film, Fox Searchlight has been looking to pre-empt any late-season bombshells that might land while voters have ballots in hand.
Nate Parker says he has grown since the rape case
Parker recently spoke with reporters about the rape case and said that he has grown as a father and as an actor since that night at Penn State. And hopes that his movie is not defined by something that happened 17 years ago.
The reality is, this is a serious issue, a very serious issue, and the fact that there is a dialogue going on right now around the country is paramount. It is critical. The fact we are making moves and taking action to protect women on campuses and off campuses, and educating men and persecuting them when things come up. I want women to stand up, to speak out when they feel violated, in every degree, as I prepare to take my own daughter to college.
He also posted his version of the events on Facebook.
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 womens 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 cant tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I cant 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 elses daughter, someones sister and someones mother back to life
I have changed so much since nineteen. Ive 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 dont 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.
Problems erupted on campus of Penn State
Parker also explained that the case caused battles on Penn State campus where some black supporters, said Parker and Celestin were victims of false charges and were treated poorly by the administration, while women’s advocates accused the university of failing to protect the young woman.
Penn State was later sued
Penn State was later sued by the young woman in 2002. It was ultimately settled for a “small cash payment” and a promise to review sexual harassment practices, which was extremely ironic because the school’s assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with molesting several young boys between 1994 and 2000.
You can read the full interview and report here.
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