Nate Parker on Rape Accuser's Suicide: "I Am Filled With Profound Sorrow"
The 'Birth of a Nation' director-writer-star issues a lengthy statement about the 1999 sexual assault case that resurfaced this week.
Nate Parker has issued a statement on the sexual assault case shadowing The Birth of a Nation director-writer-star.
"I write to you all devastated," he began in a lengthy post on his Facebook page Tuesday night. "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."
Parker found himself in the middle of a media firestorm after speaking out about the rape accusations he faced while in college at Penn State in 1999. He was acquitted of the charges while his Birth of a Nation co-writer Jean Celestin (his roommate in college) was originally found guilty. Celestin's conviction was later overturned.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that the accuser, a woman also attending Penn State at the time, had later dropped out of school and eventually made several suicide attempts. She died at the age of 30 in 2012.
Parker went on to say that as a father, husband, brother and "man of deep faith," he understands the pain that the incident has caused, especially to the family of his accuser.
"I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow," he wrote. "I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news."
He continued, "While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law."
The woman’s family responded in a statement to The New York Times, saying, “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.”
The accuser's sister, however, said that the above statement did not represent other family members, or perhaps the woman herself, adding that "I know what she would’ve said, and that would be, 'I fought long and hard, it overcame me. All I can ask is any other victims to come forward, and not let this kind of tolerance to go on anymore,'" saying "these guys sucked the soul and life out of her."
Parker’s Birth of a Nation, which he wrote, produced, directed and starred in, became a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was sold to Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million after an all-night bidding war.
Since then, Parker has been promoting the film months ahead of Fox Searchlight's planned Oct. 7 release and expected awards-season campaign. The film centers on slave Nat Turner, who led an uprising in 1831.
As The Hollywood Reporter previously reported, publicly available legal documents and numerous news reports and social media postings have shown that the accuser tried repeatedly to commit suicide in the weeks and months following her accusation against Parker and Celestin and her eventual withdrawal from Penn State.
According to an interview with the woman's brother, the woman committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. "She became detached from reality," he told Variety. "The progression was very quick and she took her life."
Read Parker's post in full below:
These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being.
I write to you all devastated…
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.