In 1999, actor Nate Parker (Red Tails, The Birth of a Nation) was accused of raping an 18-year-old freshman as a student at Pennsylvania State University while she was allegedly intoxicated and unconscious. Jean McGianni Celestin who shares a story credit with Parker for The Birth of a Nation, which Parker directed, was also accused of assaulting the same young woman that evening and was found guilty. Though Celestin was convicted, it was later overturned on appeal and not retried. Feeling completely unprotected and supported by the university (who settled their own case for $17,500), the accuser fell into a depressive downward spiral, eventually taking her own life in 2012.
As tragic as this story was (and in so many ways still is), Parker thought he’d put the past behind him as he dedicated himself entirely to his burgeoning acting career. After his breakout role in The Great Debaters in 2007, Parker was poised to become the next Denzel, receiving mentorship from some of the greats including Washington himself. But just as his star was ascending around the time of his directorial debut with The Birth of a Nation in 2016, the case resurfaced once again.
One year before the #metoo movement went viral, Nate Parker would face the ramifications of his regrettable actions as many men of Hollywood would soon also come to contend with. And while there was much buzz around The Birth of a Nation during a moment where The Academy was facing its own viral troubles with #OscarsSoWhite that called out the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the film wasn’t the only thing the press was talking about. The 1999 case was brought up in several interviews featuring Parker, but most people found both his responses and behavior to be self-serving and manipulative. At one point, Parker brought one of his five daughters to an interview. New York Times writer and author of “Bad Feminist,” Roxanne Gay wrote in response to Parker continuously referring to the incident as a “painful moment” in his life.
“Most of what he has to say about that ‘painful moment’ involves how he felt, how he was affected. The solipsism is staggering.”
In a recent conversation with The Washington Post, orchestrated by friend and fellow actor David Oyelowo (Selma), we begin to see perhaps the first real public glimpses of remorse.
“I thought in those moments, ‘Why can’t anyone empathize with me?’ Only to realize, as I’ve gone through this journey, that I had no empathy for those I had triggered, or survivors around the world that expected more, some of them my fans. Or my accuser.”
CleverMade Collapsible Storage Bins
Lightweight yet heavy duty
Good storage bins are essential for keeping your home or office organized and clutter-free. These are versatile, collapsible containers that come in various shapes and sizes that also stack together.
After the phone stopped ringing and all the buzz around him–good and bad–died down, the world around Nate Parker fell silent.
“He had become almost entirely isolated,” recalls Oyelowo. “People who he had called friends or thought of as friends, desperate not to be caught on the wrong side of this, stopped calling. He became radioactive.”
So where has the fallen star been for the last six years? Quietly living life with his wife and children, building tree houses, working on his own films (one of which he’s hoping will soon get picked up), and volunteering his time to causes fighting for gender and racial justice and the prevention of violence against women.
“You don’t just walk through the doors of these places and say, ‘Sit me down with survivors,’ ” he tells The Washington Post. “What actually happens, or what happened with me, was there was a series of conversations, or visiting sites where there are no survivors — until you realize that the very people who are touring you around are survivors themselves.”
The actor also insists that he in no way wants his volunteer work to be seen as self-serving, which is apparently received well by some of the organization leaders he works with.
“It’s exceedingly rare that we see people who have engaged in harmful behavior [engage in that work] in a way that isn’t about repositioning themselves for power,” says Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of domestic abuse survivors advocacy group UltraViolet. “But,” she continues, “[t]hat doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. … It’s good for men, especially, to see that they have a role to play, whether they’ve caused harm or not.”
Who’s to know whether or not we’ll ever see Nate Parker take the big screen once again, or if he’s even worthy of this level of redemption. But according to Parker himself, he’s not looking for it.
“I had relationships, particularly with my accuser, that were no doubt psychologically toxic, opportunistic, and self-serving,” he says. “For this I am incredibly regretful and deeply sorry. You can be innocent of legal wrongdoing and still be wrong.”