Fox Searchlight bought ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ for a record-breaking $17.5 million, after its January premier at the Sundance Film Festival The film focuses on the revolutionary Nat Turner’s failed slave rebellion in 1831, and stars Nate Parker, who also wrote, produced and directed the film. The film was sure to be a slam dunk at the box office, but recently, news of Parker 1999 rape case (for which he was acquitted), from when he was a student at Penn State University, has brought about threats of boycotts.
In the midst of the uproar, the illustrious American Film Institute has elected to cancel its Friday screening of The Birth of a Nation, which was to be followed by a Q&A session with Parker. “I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” said AFI dean Jan Schuette. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
In 1999, Parker and his friend, Jean Celestin, who is credited as a writer on “Birth of a Nation,” were charged with raping an 18-year old, who claimed she was unconscious after drinking heavily. Both men said the sex was consensual. Parker was acquitted of the rape charges in 2001, but Celestin was found guilty of sexual assault. He appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never made it back to court after the woman declined to testify again.
Last week, Variety broke the news that the unidentified victim killed herself in 2012 after swallowing nearly 200 sleeping pills.
In a Facebook post, Parker said he was “devastated” by the news of her death, while maintaining his innocence.
“I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family,” he wrote. “I cannot, nor do I want to, ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial.”
Fox will hold a different AFI screening of The Birth of a Nation later this year. The film is scheduled to open in theaters on October 7, as planned. Could AFI’s cancellation be a sign of things to come, as Parker and Fox try to roll the film out? We shall see.