Rape Trial History Casts Doubt On Oscar Hopeful Birth Of A Nation

The ambitious release campaign of the movie most hotly-tipped to clean up at next year’s Oscars has been thrown into doubt following the revelation that its director and star was tried for rape while at college.

Nate Parker, who wrote, directed and stars in slave revolt drama ‘The Birth Of A Nation’, spoke about the trial during an interview with Variety last week.

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Parker was accused along with his roommate Jean Celestin, who also co-wrote the movie, of having sex with an unconscious 18-year-old student after a night of drinking while studying at Penn State in 1999.

Though Parker admitted having sex with the girl, he maintained it was consensual.

He was acquitted in 2001, but Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, though an appeal saw a second trial thrown out of court after the victim said that she did not want to testify again.

The victim also claimed that Parker and Celestin stalked and harassed her after she reported the incident to the police.

She later dropped out of college and received $17,500 from Penn State in a legal settlement.

Speaking to Variety, Parker said: “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.”

But following Parker having broached the trial in the interview, Fox Searchlight, the studio which bought the movie for a record $17.5 million, after an unprecedented bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival, is said to be taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to what was previously called an ‘ambitious release plan’.

In a statement, it said: “Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”

The movie tells the story of the bloody slave rebellion of 1831 led by Nat Turner, an enslaved plantation worker in Virginia.

Variety reports that the studio is now considering not granting any new interviews with Parker until the Toronto Film Festival in September, where the film will be showing.

It’s also thought that an intensive, pan-US campaign of visits to churches and colleges by Parker to discuss social injustices, which was part of the movie’s sales agreement, could now be at risk from awkward questions being asked about Parker’s past by audiences and journalists.

One source, described as a ‘rival distribution executive, said that such a campaign now would require serious media training: “That means coaching him carefully. If he responds badly to a question, everything gets worse.”

Another added: “The tone in their marketing has been provocative and even a little angry

“The poster image is incredibly bold, but in this context, it changes the cadence of the campaign. That tone is going to be harder to maintain.”

Image credits: Fox Searchlight/AP