In the view of more than a few in the Hollywood community, Birth of a Nation director-writer Nate Parker has become Black Bart — a demonic figure whose lack of sensitivity during a Penn State episode 17 years ago resulted in a charge of rape (i.e., an unwanted menage a trois that the drunken victim properly regarded as a violation) and whose behavior may have contributed, certainly to some extent, to the suicide of the victim 13 years later. A rash verdict if you ask me, but the crowd wants what it wants.
The Birth of a Nation is almost certainly award-season toast — everyone seems to believe that. It even appears as if Parker himself might be persona non grata, industry-wise, for the next few months. But what he, Jean Celestin and the late victim got into during the 1999 incident in question was, however repulsive or appalling from her P.O.V., probably not hugely different from the bacchanalia that hundreds of thousands of inebriated college students got into in their dorm rooms going back to the mid ’60s, or the dawn of the libertine era.
Here, in an 8.27 interview with Ebony‘s Britni Danielle, is how Parker sees the differences between then and now:
Britni Danielle: “You started out tonight addressing the controversy, and you talked a lot about male culture and toxic masculinity. So I want to kind of compare. What, at 19, did you know about consent?”
Nate Parker: “To be honest, not very much. It wasn’t a conversation people were having. When I think about 1999, I think about being a 19-year-old kid, and I think about my attitude and behavior just toward women with respect [to] objectifying them. I never thought about consent as a definition, especially as I do now. I think the definitions of so many things have changed.
“Put it this way — when you’re 19, a threesome is normal. It’s fun. When you’re 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about — for me, back then — if you can get a girl to say yes, you win.”
BD: “Yes to, like, hanging out? Or yes to, like, sex?”
NP: “If I can be just honest about it, just being down. Back then, when I was young and we were out being dogs it was about is she down? You think she down?”
BD: “Was that a question you would actually pose to her?”
BD: “So it was kinda like an assumption you were working on?”
NP: “Back then, it felt like…I’ll say this: at 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go? If I touch her breast and she’s down for me to touch her breast, cool. If I touch her lower and she’s down and she’s not stopping me, cool. I’m going to kiss her or whatever. It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away, that was non-consent.”
Fair interjection: In other words, Nate is implying, the victim in the 1999 incident (a) didn’t say “no” and (b) seemed more or less “down.”
NP: “Let me be the first to say, I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged…and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general.
BD: “You mentioned that your initial comments about the resurrection of this incident were self-centered, and from an emotional place on your behalf. So do you understand why people are struggling with…
NP: “Absolutely! I understand now, but I was speaking from a standpoint of ignorance.”
BD: “Two weeks ago, you mean?
NP: “Yeah. Well, when you don’t know, you don’t know. It’s like, if I don’t know how to swim and two weeks later I know how to swim, I know how to swim. Honestly, when I started reading them comments I had to call some people and say, What did I do wrong? What did I say wrong?
“I called a couple of sisters that know that are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions. What did I do wrong? Because I was thinking about myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. I didn’t think about her then, and I didn’t think about her when I was saying those statements, which was wrong and insensitive.
“Let’s just put it like this: if a person was accused of being a racist when he was young — he said some racially insensitive thing or someone had him on tape calling someone the n-word or whatever — and then you fast forward and he feels, ‘Oh, back then I didn’t say this or that.’ He’s not thinking about the person that he hurt when he said what he said, or however it came out, or the effects that it could have had. He’s not thinking about it. He’s thinking about his own self and how he feels.”
BD: So, how would 36-year-old Nate classify that particular incident with you, Jean [Celestin], and the girl?
NP: “I’ll say this, I think that they are more things than the law. I think there is having a behavior that is disrespectful to women that goes unchecked, where your manhood is defined by sexual conquests, where you trade stories with your friends and no one checks anyone. At 19, that was normal. As a 36-year-old man, if I looked at my 19-year-old self as my son, if I could have grabbed him earlier before this incident, or even just going to college. Because for me, it’s about this incident, but it’s [also] about a culture that I never took the time to try to understand. I never examined my role in male culture, in hyper masculinity. I never examined it, nobody ever called me on it.
“So if I’m 36 and I have my 19-year-old self, I’m pulling him to the side, and saying, ‘Listen bruh, throwing on your Timbs and your fitted hat and strolling campus trying to get a girl to say yes, or going to the club hoping you bring a girl home, that’s not the way to go about healthy relationships. You need to step back. You need to think about how that affects you, how it affects them, how it affects the women in your life.'”