Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh has just reported a double bombshell — one, that the woman who 17 years ago accused Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker and co-story author Jean Celestin of rape at Penn State University committed suicide in 2012, at age 30, and two, that while there’s no evidence that the woman’s death was directly related to the rape and subsequent trial, her older brother, identified by Setoodeh only as “Johnny,” has told Setoodeh that her downward spiral in life began with these incidents.
Sadly, tragically, the victim’s death certificate, obtained by Variety, says she had suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexaul abuse [and] polysubstance abuse.”
Johnny has told Setoodeh that be believes that the 1999 rape and subsequent rape trial nudged his sister into a downward spiral. “If I were to look back at [the victim’s] very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,” Johnny is quoted as saying. She killed herself with sleeping pills, the article says.
Obviously in basic humanist terms a tragedy of this sort outweighs nominally peripheral, less substantial concerns such as Hollywood community opinions and award-season interests, but if you process this report along with the Oscar prospects of Birth of a Nation — as everyone is definitely doing right now, trust me — this is really bad for Parker, the film and Fox Searchlight, certainly in terms of shorthand understandings of what this tragedy may be connected to.
[Parker’s Facebook statement, posted early Tuesday evening, is after the jump.]
The movie is the movie, Nat Turner‘s life is Nat Turner’s life, and Parker’s personal, legal and ethical issues stemming from a 17 year-old college experience do not, in my view, reflect upon each other or overlap. Except in a moral authority sense, particularly given that Parker’s script uses the rape of Turner’s wife as an instigating factor in the 1831 Turner-led slave revolt. All I can say is that news of the real-life victim having taken her own life four years ago sounds like a loud and resonant tolling of the bell.