The Birth of a Nation, a film about the 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner, isn’t set to arrive in theaters for another two months, but it’s already suffering a major setback. The film’s director/writer/producer Nate Parker and a college rape trial are reportedly sending studio executives “scrambling.”
Apparently, Fox Searchlight reportedly had no idea Parker was on trial for rape in 2001 before shelling out $17.5 million for the Sundance Film Festival breakout movie. While attending Penn State in 1999, Parker and Nation co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of raping an 18-year-old woman who claimed she was unconscious when the men sexually assaulted her. Parker was acquitted based on testimony that he had consensual sex with his accuser before the alleged rape.
Celestin was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison. In 2005, Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial, but the accuser declined to testify again, thus stopping the case before it once again went to trial. All this remained essentially buried until recently when the 36-year-old Parker addressed the case during a press run, saying he has since moved on with his life.
With the rape case back in the headlines, Variety is reporting Fox Searchlight is now unsure on how to move forward with the film’s release strategy because of fear the case may overshadow and hurt the film’s sales.
But now, the studio is taking a wait and see approach to a proposed ambitious release plan that had called for extensive outreach to church groups, college campuses and prominent Hollywood figures. Parker not only stars in “The Birth of a Nation ” — he also wrote, directed and produced the film.
Parker, a devout Christian, was also going to directly sell the story of Nat Turner — himself a preacher — to churches and religious groups. He’d already given one of his first major post-Sundance interviews this month to Christianity Today. But questions about Parker’s past could also dissuade religious audiences from buying tickets to see “The Birth of A Nation.”
However, on the record, Fox Searchlight is standing 100 percent behind Parker. In a statement sent to Variety last Friday, the film distribution company said they were fully aware of Parker’s past and the fact 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,” they concluded.
Meanwhile, the accuser’s brother is speaking out. His sister overdosed on sleeping pills in 2012, and her death certificate reportedly stated she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, and polysubstance abuse.” Her brother claims it went all downhill for Parker’s accuser after the alleged sexual assault. “She became detached from reality, he told Variety. “The progression was very quick and she took her life.”