Birth of a Nation filmmaker Nate Parker mired in previous sexual assault allegations

Parker was acquitted in 1999 trial, but many questions still remain

Nate Parker

    In what seems to sadly be only the latest in a series of recent cases concerning Hollywood stars and unpleasant allegations, a rape trial from 17 years ago involving filmmaker Nate Parker has returned to light.

    Last week, Variety reported that Parker — the writer, director, and star of the upcoming film The Birth of a Nation — had been a defendant in a trial regarding an alleged assault that took place around Penn State’s campus in 1999, when Parker and co-defendant Jean Celestin, who has a story credit for Nation, were accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious 18-year-old woman.

    The article speaks to the moments leading up to and following the trial:

    “At the time, Parker admitted he had sex but claimed it was consensual. The woman said that she was unconscious, and did not consent to having sex with Parker or Celestin. She also claimed that she was stalked and harassed by Parker and Celestin after she reported the incident to the police. Parker was suspended from the wrestling team, and later transferred to a different college in Oklahoma.

    In a 2001 trial, he was acquitted, based on testimony that he had previously had consensual sexual relations with his accuser. But his roommate was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. Celestin appealed the verdict, and a second trial in 2005 was thrown out due to the victim not wanting to testify again. (She sued the university and was awarded a $17,500 settlement out of court.)”


    When asked about the allegations during a recent interview with Variety, Parker responded, “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 was also asked by Deadline about the allegations and said, “I was sure it would come up … It is there, on my Wikipedia page, the Virginia Pilot … I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years removed from one of the most painful … [he wells up at the memory] moments in my life. And I can imagine it was painful, for everyone. I was cleared of everything, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of living, and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.”

    Parker added, “I will not relive that period of my life every time I go under the microscope … What do I do? When you have a certain level of success, when things start to work, things go under the microscope and become bigger and bigger things. I can’t control people; I can’t control the way people feel. What I can do is be the most honorable man I can be. Live my life with the most integrity that I can, stand against injustice everywhere I see it, lead charges against injustice against people of color, against the LGBT community. That’s me. The black community is my community, the LGBT community too, and the female community. That is my community. That me, it’s who I am.”


    Deadline also got in touch with Celestin, who said, “This was something that I experienced as a college student 17 years ago and was fully exonerated of. I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career. I have several exciting book and film projects that I am working on and that I am looking forward to.”

    Following Variety’s initial report, The Hollywood Reporter today published a story in which a pattern of harassment in the wake of the alleged assault was outlined, along with the revelation that the plaintiff in the rape case committed suicide in 2012:

    “According to a briefing filed by the accuser’s attorney, Parker and Celestin began harassing the woman, referred to as Jane Doe in certain court documents, in the days and weeks after she reported the alleged rape to police. ‘Parker and Celestin began an organized campaign to harass Jane Doe and make her fear for her safety,’ wrote her attorneys, ‘Jane Doe was harassed on campus and was no longer able to eat or socialize in public areas.’

    According to this legal brief, Parker showed up outside her dormitory or buildings where she had classes, “hurled sexual epithets” at her when she walked around campus, and made harassing phone calls to her room.

    A few weeks later, on November 17, 1999, she tried to commit suicide for the first time, according to court documents. Six days later, she tried again. The next month she stopped attending classes and in January she withdrew altogether.

    According to her attorney’s legal brief, she returned a couple of months later, only to find that the harassment was continuing. The university “failed to take any steps to address the harassment,” her attorneys wrote. In May, her apartment was broken into and legal filings relating to her case were disturbed.”

    On Tuesday night, Parker gave his most extensive response to date in an open letter posted to Facebook. “I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow,” he said.


    While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law,” Parker continued, adding, “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.”

    Read his full statement below:

    “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.

    Fox Spotlight — the studio behind Birth of a Nation — said in a statement that “it 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.”


    UPDATE: The late accuser’s family issued a statement to The New York Times:

    “We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.”

    (Clarification: the initially cited Variety article conflicts with updated information provided by The Daily Beast. The accuser was willing to testify again; the case was dismissed due to other issues.)

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