AFI Calls Off 'Birth of a Nation' Screening, Nate Parker Q&A

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
'The Birth of a Nation'

In response to concerns about the subject of the film, the school will instead hold a discussion and will screen the Nat Turner biopic later in the year.

A screening of The Birth of a Nation and a Q&A with writer-director-star Nate Parker that was slated to take place at the American Film Institute's Conservatory on Friday has been postponed because of concerns that have been raised about the film.

Birth had been set to screen at the L.A.-based film school's "Opening Day," a special screening for second-year fellows (as the students are called) that occurs at the end of the first week of the new semester. The screening is usually reserved for an upcoming, high-profile release and is accompanied by a guest who worked on the film. Instead, the school will hold a discussion about issues raised by the film and the surrounding controversy. Fox Searchlight has told AFI it will provide the film for a screening later in the year.

In a message that he sent to the fellows, AFI dean Jan Schuette explained, "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. Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience."

Edward Zwick, who sits on the AFI Board of Directors, was an executive producer on the historical biopic, which tells the story of Nat Turner's failed slave rebellion. In lieu of the Birth screening, a screening of Paramount's upcoming Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which Zwick has directed, will take place.

The event is the first involving Parker that's been called off since he became the center of controversy for his comments about a resurfaced rape trial he faced while he was a student-athlete at Penn State in 1999.

The filmmaker and fellow wrestler Jean Celestin, who shares a story-by credit on Birth of a Nation with Parker, were accused of raping a female student. Parker was acquitted of the charges, and later transferred schools to the University of Oklahoma. Celestin was originally found guilty, but the conviction was later overturned.

Last week, it was revealed that the woman who accused the two men of rape, and also attended Penn State at the time, committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30. 

In a Facebook post, Parker wrote: "I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow." He continued, "While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law."

The Birth of a Nation has been poised to be a breakout film of the season after Fox Searchlight acquired it for a record-breaking $17.5 million following it's sensational Sundance premiere. Parker was scheduled to embark on a nationwide promotional tour to speak about the film at several college campuses around the country. However, with the director-star now embattled in a media firestorm, there's been speculation that he will be pulled from many events, especially those involving college campuses. Searchlight has stated that it plans to move forward with the tour and wide release.

The full text of Schuette's message follows:

Dear Fellows,

I'm writing you about Friday's Second Year Fellow's Opening Day film — The Birth of a Nation.

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. Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.

Fox has agreed to host a screening of the film for us later in the year, and I'm happy to announce here that we are going to double down on Ed Zwick's talent and generosity — and the Second Year Opening Day will also be Jack Reacher: Never Go Back — and he and Marshall Herskovitz will return to discuss the film and meet you.

The new schedule is below, and I look forward to seeing you on Friday.

Jan

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