Rape case over­shad­ows ‘Birth of a Na­tion’ re­lease

Wisconsin Gazette - - Pet Briefs - The As­so­ci­ated Press

A 17-year-old rape ac­cu­sa­tion and re­cent re­ports that the woman ac­cuser com­mit­ted sui­cide have cast a shadow over The Birth of a Na­tion, one of the year’s most an­tic­i­pated films, and its ris­ing star, just as their awards cam­paign is ramp­ing up.

Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Na­tion,a drama about Nat Turner’s 1831 slave re­bel­lion, has been pegged as an Academy Awards can­di­date since its award-win­ning de­but at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, where it fetched a record $17.5 mil­lion ac­qui­si­tion price from Fox Search­light.

The Birth of a Na­tion, which Parker stars in, co-wrote, co-pro­duced and di­rected, is a film some be­lieve will help sweep in a more di­verse field of Os­car nom­i­nees, along with pro­vid­ing a break­through for Parker.

But af­ter a hand­ful of re­cent trade in­ter­views in which Parker dis­cussed the rape charges he faced and was then ac­quit­ted of as a stu­dent at Penn State Univer­sity in 1999, Parker’s past is what’s draw­ing head­lines well be­fore the Oc­to­ber re­lease of the film.

At­ten­tion has only in­ten­si­fied with the re­cent news from Hol­ly­wood trade pub­li­ca­tions The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter and Va­ri­ety that the ac­cuser, who was not named, killed her­self in 2012 at the age of 30.

A death cer­tifi­cate ob­tained by Va­ri­ety said she suf­fered from “ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der with psy­chotic fea­tures, PTSD due to phys­i­cal and sex­ual abuse.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Parker and the stu­dio did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quest for com­ment about the lat­est re­ports.

As a 19-year-old wrestler at Penn State, Parker and his room­mate Jean Ce­lestin (who has a story credit on The Birth of a Na­tion) were charged with rap­ing the 18-year-old stu­dent. The woman said she was un­con­scious at the time and didn’t con­sent to the sex. Parker, who tes­ti­fied that he and the woman had pre­vi­ously had sex, and Ce­lestin main­tained that it was con­sen­sual.

Parker and Ce­lestin in­vited an­other friend to join them in hav­ing sex with the woman that night, but the third man tes­ti­fied that he de­clined, say­ing it didn’t feel right. Dead­line re­ported that, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Parker told the vic­tim, “I felt like you put your­self in that sit­u­a­tion, you know what I mean? … I re­ally felt like I didn’t do any­thing wrong.”

Also ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, the woman tried twice to com­mit sui­cide in 1999.

Parker was ac­quit­ted in 2001. Ce­lestin was con­victed of sex­ual as­sault, but that was over­turned when the woman did not The Birth of a Na­tion. tes­tify in a 2005 re­trial.

Say­ing Parker and Ce­lestin in­tim­i­dated and ha­rassed her on cam­pus fol­low­ing the in­ci­dent, she sued Penn State for its fail­ure to pro­tect her. She was awarded a re­ported $17,500 set­tle­ment out of court. Her suffering con­tin­ued. The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter spoke to S. Daniel Carter, a Penn State sex­ual as­sault ad­vo­cate, who said the ac­cuser was “tor­mented” by “the con­stant con­tact and fear of see­ing her as­sailants on cam­pus.”

The ac­cuser’s brother, iden­ti­fied only as Johnny, also spoke about his sis­ter.

“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. “The trial was pretty tough for her.”

Af­ter the trial, Johnny said, his sis­ter moved around fre­quently and be­came a mother to a son with her boyfriend.

“I think the ghosts con­tin­ued to haunt her,” he said.

The case largely es­caped no­tice at Sun­dance in Jan­uary. But in re­cent in­ter­views, Parker con­fronted it straight­for­wardly.

“I was sure it would come up,” Parker told Dead­line. “I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years re­moved from one of the painful mo­ments in my life. And I can imag­ine it was painful for ev­ery­one. I was cleared of every­thing, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of liv­ing and raised a lot of chil­dren. I’ve got five daugh­ters and a lovely wife.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Parker and the stu­dio did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment af­ter news broke of his ac­cuser’s sui­cide.

The stu­dio, Fox Search­light, paid more for The Birth of a Na­tion than any pre­vi­ous Sun­dance film.

In an ear­lier state­ment, the stu­dio said, “Fox Search­light is aware of the in­ci­dent that oc­curred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found in­no­cent and cleared of all charges. We stand be­hind Nate and are proud to help bring this im­por­tant and pow­er­ful story to the screen.”

Parker also re­ceived back­lash af­ter Ebony mag­a­zine re­ported he said that he’d never play a gay char­ac­ter, in an ef­fort “to pre­serve the black man.”

The movie’s poster de­picts Parker as Turner with a noose made out of a U.S. flag.

The film will play in Septem­ber at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

Louis Weis­berg contributed to this story.

PHOTO: COUR­TESY

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