The first time I watched the trailer for the critically acclaimed “Birth of a Nation”, I knew it was a movie I wanted to see. The story of Nat Turner- a slave who led a rebellion in Virginia in 1831- is significant and one that should be told. I still believe that, but I can’t consciously support Nate Parker. Nate Parker is the film’s writer, director, star…and a rapist.
In 1999 Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, his college roommate at Penn State, were accused of raping a woman.68usual suspects69To make a long, painful story short; Parker was acquitted and Celestin served 6 months and then was cleared on appeal. Penn State also paid her a settlement of $17,500. You’re probably asking how it’s possible only one person served time if both were involved that night. The answer: a technicality. Parker and the victim had consensual sex the day before the incident. For some reason this jury believed that once you had sex with someone once; you can be forced to have sex with them as many times as you please. This jury got it wrong.
The facts surrounding this incident are enough to drive a sane person mad. Add in the fact that in 2012, the victim committed suicide (this being her third attempt) and that Parker’s comments relating to the trial seem to paint himself as both a victim and now an activist against injustices to women and my head literally hurts.
During an interview with Variety, Parker says: “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”—he took a long silence—“I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”
And while he’s correct that he can’t relive 17 years ago, perhaps he could not sound quite so condescending and first cling to how painful the moment was for HIM. You can’t read this transcript of this phone call between the victim and Parker without knowing who was truly in pain.
While it’s been hard to wrap my head around how I feel about this case, make no mistake that I ultimately know in the end, no amount of buts, perhaps or maybes can justify my supporting him. The same way that I can’t listen to an R.Kelly song without shuddering, I cannot support Nate Parker.
You don’t get to invite your homeboys to sleep with a woman who is going in and out of consciousness. You definitely do not get to tell her she brought it on herself. It should not take you having 5 daughters of your own to “get” that someone who is intoxicated cannot give consent.
Of all the articles, court documents and transcripts that I’ve read- and there are many- the article that expresses most closely how I feel is this by Tarana Burke at Colorlines.
So now, when I watch the trailer for “Birth of a Nation”, I no longer see the story of Nat Turner. I now see…her. I see her pain and her tears and wish we could tell her that what happened to her mattered. That she mattered.
Watching the trailer, I see despair. As we hear the words from Peter 2:18, “Submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”, it leaves me to wonder, who were the masters?
In watching, I see art imitating life as we watch an older woman- a slave... washing his back- healing Nate Parker, after being whipped. Her voice utters the words 225To watch a strong man be torn down is a terrible thing.226 My mind turns to the overwhelming comments on social media from those who’d rather believe the current publicity surrounding this case is a conspiracy; a way of “trying to bring another brother down”.
I hear the climatic entrance of Andra Day’s powerful voice singing...
“And we'll rise up High like the waves We'll rise up In spite of the ache We'll rise up”
...and wonder if this is her redemption song. That even in her death, Jane Doe’s spirit can finally rest knowing that there are people who support her. Who believe her. And somehow that makes me even more sad because, if we’d known sooner- would she still be here?
282283type284b285contents286type287text288contents289INJUSTICE ANYWHERE IS A THREAT TO JUSTICE EVERYWHERE290type291text292contents293294How will we ever get to a place where injustice is eradicated...if we can't even agree with what injustice is?
What do you see?