Almost immediately after the ecstatic Sundance response to Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation last January, I was sent links to articles about Parker’s 1999 Penn State rape case. I had two reactions. One, although Nate’s friend Jean Celestin, who was also involved in the PSU assault of a 20 year old female student and who currently shares story credit on The Birth of a Nation, was sentenced to six months (which he never did the time for), Nate walked so I figured “leave it alone, happened 17 years ago, drinking was involved, it has nothing to do with here and now.” Two, I knew somebody reputable would jump on it sooner or later.
Today the inevitable examination pieces about Parker’s rape case popped in Variety and Deadline. Parker gave interviews to Deadline‘s Michael Cieply and Mike Fleming, and also to Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh.
How is Parker explaining the case? What new light is he shedding? What particulars has he decided to share? Answer: No details, no particulars…nothing. Parker is basically saying that it happened 17 years ago, he walked, it happened under difficult circumstances but he’s moved on and that’s that.
Parker to Setoodeh: “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is…I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”
Parker also told Setoodeh that “there are numerous things that are surfacing” — an apparent reference to posters on black Twitter giving him shit for having a white wife. “But I’ve always been an open book. I’m an advocate of justice. I’m an older man. I’ve matured a lot. I’ve had many obstacles in my life. I grew up very poor. My father passed away. There are so many things that happened. At the same time, I am the man that I am. I am open to the scrutiny. I will never hide anything from my past.”
The Deadline piece was posted around 10:33 this morning, and the Variety piece was posted ay 2:02 pm today, or roughly three and a half hours later.
Variety and Deadline are owned by the same company, Penske Media, but there was obvious resentment on the part of Setoodeh and his editors that Deadline has posted first even though Variety had interviewed Parker at least a day before Deadline….not fair! The following sentence from Setoodeh’s piece speaks volumes: “On the day after his interview with Variety, Parker arranged to speak with Deadline for a story about the case.”
Bottom line: This story obviously has nowhere to go, but it’s not going to be erased. (Certainly not by anyone who reads the court transcripts, which are fairly sordid) I suspect that The Birth of a Nation will still be Best Picture nominated because it contains a very powerful narrative, but it won’t win. It’s a good film but not good enough. On top of which the other Oscar pony with an African-American narrative — Denzel Washington‘s Fences — will probably attract more Best Picture heat. And let’s not forget Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight. But Birth will get a lot of attention and probably sell a lot of tickets, and Parker will continue to get a good career bounce.