“The Birth of A Nation” depicts the important story of enslaved black people fighting for their freedom against oppressive white slave owners. The message couldn’t be more poignant: enslaved people could be their own heroes, and did have powerful rebellions and uprisings against their oppressors. It’s a story of the black freedom struggle and different from the typical slave movies that widely portray the enslaved as never fighting back. Nate Parker, who wrote, produced, directed and stars in the film, has been lauded for an excellent historical adaptation of a crucial moment in African-American history. “The Birth of a Nation” met scintillating reviews at Sundance film festival. I was ebullient at the prospect of a black-centric film being so highly praised and needless to say, was highly anticipating seeing it the moment it hits theaters.
To my dismay, I later learned of Nate Parker sexually assaulting a fellow college student when he was studying at Penn State. The filmmaker himself spoke of the assault during an interview in order to frame the narrative before it presumably got out to the public. Talking to “Variety” last month, Parker looked back at his past and reflected on the rape allegation against him, saying that, “seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life . . . It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is, I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”
If he had been genuinely apologetic for the harm he inflicted upon another person’s life, or even had an iota of remorse, this would be an entirely different story. Instead, Nate Parker chose to center himself, his feelings and how the sexual assault he had committed had affected his own life. He urged the public to see him as a changed man because he has five daughters—apparently, having female family members exempts you from being an unrepentant rapist.
Now, before you rush to interject saying, “He was found not guilty for rape! Stop trying him in the court of public opinion!” — let’s review the facts first. Nate Parker’s victim was unconscious when he and his then roommate and current co-writer, Jean Celestin, sexually assaulted her. A victim that is not conscious is a victim that is unable to consent. To make matters worse, the only reason Parker got off at all for the rape is because he and his victim had had consensual sexual contact the night before. This exemplifies a terrible misunderstanding of consent. Simply because one person consented to have sex with another once does not mean that sex with them is permanently consensual. Back then, the law was not as aware of consent as it is (or at least should be) now. Nate Parker had non-consensual sex with an unconscious girl, which is rape.
The story doesn’t end there. Parker and his friends made the victim’s life a living hell by harassing her, slut-shaming her and sending her nudes to the whole school. A once 4.0 student ended up dropping out of Penn State because she couldn’t deal with all the harassment. Years later, she killed herself. Yet Parker says, “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” with insufficient regard to the person he actually harmed and inflicted severe trauma upon. Any attempts Parker has had at redeeming himself have fallen flat and short of penance.
So no, I will not be seeing “The Birth of a Nation” in theaters. I will not support an unconscionable rapist. I already know the story of Nat Turner’s rebellion, and I’d rather not give my money to a man who does not deserve it in the slightest. Yes, I’m pro-black, but I’m a feminist too, and I won’t encourage rape culture by letting this one slide and giving Nate Parker a pass because “he’s doing something good for the black community.” Instead, you’ll see me watching “Hidden Figures” this January, a film that actually tells the inspiring story of black women that shaped NASA’s historic space programs. Now that is a film worth supporting.
Photo courtesy of Eliza Berman via Time