Nate Parker had a great chance tonight to end the controversy around his past, and save his excellent movie “Birth of a Nation” from becoming a casualty. Parker could have used “60 Minutes” as form for apologizing to the family of the young woman he was acquitted of raping in 1999 as a student at Penn State.
Instead, Parker declined. “I don’t feel guilty,” he told Anderson Cooper. “I do think it’s tragic…but I also think…at some point I have to say it, I was falsely accused. I was vindicated. I was proven innocent.”
Parker and his co-writer, Jean Celestin, were accused of raping a young woman. Parker was acquitted. Celestin was found guilty but that was overturned on appeal. The woman committed suicide in 2012. “I was devastated,” he told Cooper, when he head the girl committed suicide. He said he heard about it in the news. “I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. I feel terrible her family had to deal with that. But apology, no.”
The public is aware of the incident. “Birth of a Nation” posters have been defaced with the word ‘rapist.’ That’s not good, and it colors the entire experience of the movie. And that’s too bad, because this is a movie that must be seen, it’s too important to ignore. Without this scandal, “Nation” would be an easy Best Picture nominee. Before the scandal broke, the movie was considered the front runner to win. Now, not so much.
“Birth of a Nation” is coming this Friday, October 7th. How can audiences separate their feelings about Parker from the historical importance of the movie? And who is giving Parker advice? Whoever it is has not been able to give Parker something to say that appeases anyone. The “60 Minutes” interview could have turned this around, but it hasn’t. What a shame.The stakes are high financially– $17 million spent by Fox Searchlight plus promotion means “Birth” has to clear $50 million. And the stakes are high for Parker because this will follow him forever until he seems more contrite. I am disappointed no one has explained that to him.