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.
Things are certainly worse now than they were last Friday when Parker agreed to discuss the issue openly with interviews granted to Variety and Deadline.
Parker’s character, Johnny opined, “should be under a microscope because of this incident. If you removed these two people [Parker and Celestin], the project” — The Birth of a Nation, he mans — “is commendable. But there’s a moral and ethical stance you would expect from someone with regard to this movie. [Parker] may have litigated out of any kind of situation. My position is he got off on a technicality.”
“I don’t think a rapist shoudl be celebrated. It’s really a cultural decision we’re making as a society to go to the theatre and speak with our dollars and reward a sexual predator.”
Parker didn’t mention the late victim when he addressed the situaton last week. “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety. “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.”
The Hollywood Reporter totally ducked this story last week but has actually reported on this latest turn.
Sasha Stone took a long time to finally say something about this, but what she posted is fair and lucid and well-reasoned. But she needs to update it in terms of today’s revelation.
An 8.16 N.Y. Times piece by Cara Buckley and Serge F. Kovaleski, published this afternoon.
Parker’s Facebook statement: “These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being.
“I write to you all devastated…
“Over the last several days, a part of my past — my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault — has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions. These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult.
“And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved.
“I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago, and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news.
“I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family. I cannot nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation.
“As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.
I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in.
“I cannot change what has happened. I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life…
“I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability.
“All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.
I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment. — Nate”