On the Comeback Trail, Nate Parker Shows American Skin and Apologizes About ‘Tone Deaf’ Response to Resurfaced Rape Charge

Nate Parker and Spike Lee at the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Sept. 1, 2019.
Photo: Arthur Mola (Invision/AP)

Nate Parker has a new attitude.

And a new project he’s hawking to the masses.

The once embattled actor/director—who torpedoed his Academy Award possibilities for his directorial debut, The Birth of a Nation in 2016 after a 1999 rape charge resurfaced while promoting the Nat Turner biopic—is back on the film festival circuit with his latest work American Skin. 

He’s much more contrite and aware these days.

Or at least that’s the way he appeared at a press conference for the police brutality-based film at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday.

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“The last three years have been such a learning experience for me,” Parker, 39, said to reporters, according to Variety. “I feel like I have gained so much wisdom from people in my circle.”

“Three years ago I was pretty tone-deaf to the realities of certain situations that were happening in the climate. And I’ve had a lot of time to think about that, and I’ve learned a lot from it,” he said. “And being tone-deaf, there were a lot of people that were hurt in my response, in the way I approached things. I apologize to those people.”

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The Birth of a Nation made Sundance Film Festival history when Fox Searchlight purchased it for a record $17.5 million in 2016.

Though it was critically acclaimed in some circles, it was a box office failure after Parker started making the publicity rounds—and news resurfaced that he had been accused of sexual assault during his sophomore year at Penn State in 1999.

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He was acquitted in the 2001 case but the accuser died by suicide years later.

The actor and promising director responded that he was “falsely accused” and had been “vindicated,” a move many deemed as poorly executed.

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“I’ve learned, I’m continuing to learn,” he said, while in Venice, Italy, for the police-brutality drama, which stars Power star Omari Hardwick alongside Hill Street Blues veteran Michael Warren and Sons of Anarchy actor Theo Rossi.

“I’m 39 years old now. Hopefully, I have a long way to go. The hope is that I can continue taking the wisdom from people who care enough…and help me to be introspective about where I am and what I’ve been through.”

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Parker’s Red Hook Summer director (he starred in the film) and recent Academy Award winner Spike Lee—who ironically didn’t host his annual Michael Jackson Brooklyn Block Party (yeah Spike, we noticed)—was along for the ride with Parker in Venice.

“He explained to me the growth he had gone through, and also the pain, and when he said that, I said, ‘Come on, brother. I’m with you. That’s why I’m here,’” Lee said.

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Tarak Ben Ammar, who co-financed the film, told the outlet that Lee was an “ambassador” for American Skin and is responsible for putting the film on the map: “It’s so rare for a filmmaker to take another young director under his wing.”

The film will next play the 45th Deauville Film Festival in France this weekend —the same venue where Woody Allen’s A Rainy Day in New York will open.

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About the author

Karu F. Daniels

Hailing from "the thorough borough" of Brooklyn, Mr. Daniels has written for The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Essence, VIBE, NBC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News and Word Up!