When the past comes back to haunt you: The Nate Parker Story


To be young, gifted and black is a notable phrase wrought with many complications concerning the invisible glass ceiling considered difficult to break in a society where race and assumed perceptions of race are irrevocably interlinked.

“Birth of a Nation,” which marks Nate Parker’s directorial debut grants imagery to a story about a slave rebellion led by the then enslaved Nat Turner in 1831.

This is a story long overdue in Hollywood, which has been plagued with the issue of diversity for the past two years.

The movie made history in a bidding war at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and for which Fox Searchlight Pictures purchased for $17.5 million. Since then, there has been increasing interest in regards to Nate Parker’s past as is usually inevitable when doing work that garners attention and one chooses to bask in the limelight of being the star, writer, producer and director of a project.

Parker along with his friend, Jean Celestin (co-writer of Birth of a Nation), was accused of rape in 1999 when they were student athletes at Penn State University. Parker was ultimately found not guilty but Celestin was convicted. Celestin was later exonerated due to prior witnesses being too difficult to locate for a re-trial.

Parker and Celestin have gone on to have families and carve out careers in Hollywood, while the victim never fully recovered from the incident. She committed suicide in 2012.

An interview with Variety magazine where Parker voluntarily commented on his past sexual assault case has sparked outrage and questions concerning his moral character.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” said Parker. “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.”

However, the question that should be asked currently is, what now? Now that his past is open to scrutiny, what do media outlets and potential moviegoers want from Nate Parker?

I doubt a confession of prior misdeeds would suffice, and it seems as though owning up to his misogynistic mindset as a 19-year-old involved in a sexual situation gone horribly wrong doesn’t seem to be winning anyone over either.

In a recent interview with Ebony magazine, when Parker was asked if he thought about the victim or the rape case he was involved in at any point over the last 17 years. He responded, “No, I had not. I hadn’t thought about it at all.” And here is where the problem may lie.

The problem may lie with not being able to suspend disbelief long enough to separate Nate Parker the man from Nate Parker the artist. It has taken 17 years and a movie to promote for him to address, acknowledge and understand that his mentality towards women and consent was selfish as well as destructive.

The timing for clarity, unfortunately for him is all too convenient and disingenuous. The lack of awareness and the ineptitude to see beyond himself conflicts with his interest in a story where a former slave rebelled against a white society that could not bring themselves to see the humanity in others.

Nate Parker will be making the media rounds to promote “Birth of a Nation,” which is in theaters on October 7, 2016. His campaign, come award season may be somewhat tainted, to say the least.

“Birth of a Nation” is a film that deserves its moment. However, many feel that Nate Parker is a questionable candidate to bring such a story to the silver screen. The failure to not anticipate the critique of one’s past despite overseeing a film about the past makes the short-lived positive attention in regards to the film feel bittersweet.

Parker should not be surprised that questions about race, sexual assault and the overall lack of concern shown towards violence against women will only intensify as award season in the film industry approaches. The questions will be complicated and hopefully bring attention to a much bigger conversation at hand— sex on college campuses throughout the United States.

America has evolved and so has what is now deemed appropriate behavior from boys and men. Blaming carefree unmonitored behavior on boyish youth, while exhibiting a lack of self-control is no longer acceptable.

What can be gleaned from this controversy is that one’s past is seemingly never truly erased no matter what is done afterwards for redemption. Innocence may be proven through loop-holes and technicalities exploited in a court of law but forgiveness is not so easily won when traumatic events may have played a part in destroying another person’s life resulting in their death.

Morgan Reid is a graduate of Temple University with a B.A. in Film & Media Arts and English minor. Hailing from New York, Reid has gained experience working in the entertainment industry in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. She currently works as a freelance writer in the Baltimore area.