Academy President on 'Birth of a Nation' Backlash: "People Need to See the Movie"

Cheryl Boone Isaacs - H 2016
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Cheryl Boone Isaacs - H 2016

"I know just by the conversation that has gone on at Sundance that it's clearly a movie that filmgoers should go and see," Cheryl Boone Isaacs says of the Nate Parker film.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs thinks that no matter the history of filmmaker Nate Parker, "people need to see" The Birth of a Nation

Speaking to TMZ on Thursday, she said she hasn't yet seen the film from writer, director and star Parker, but added, "I know just by the conversation that has gone on at Sundance that it's clearly a movie that filmgoers should go and see."

In 1999, Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of rape by a female classmate. Parker was acquitted at trial while Celestin was found guilty, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal. The trial transcripts have been shared in the media in recent weeks as the Oct. 7 release of The Birth of a Nation nears, and Parker recently spoke out about the case. It also was revealed that the accuser killed herself in 2012.

When asked about the issue of Parker's "presumed guilt," Boone Isaacs replied: "That's one issue, that's his personal issue. And then there's the issue of the movie." She added, "The important thing is for people to see it and enjoy the film, be impressed by the film. And I think that is what is very important. People need to see this movie."

Is she worried that it could be impacted in a negative way? "Now you're making a guess about the possibility," she said. "This is my belief, is that people need to see the movie and judge the movie."

The Birth of a Nation tells the story of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. The unflinching portrayal of slavery’s horrors and Turner’s personal story captivated audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January and fetched a record $17.5 million when it was sold to Fox Searchlight. 

The Hollywood Reporter surveyed Academy members and found that few had previously known of Parker before the details of his rape trial resurfaced and are now first learning about him through the resulting media coverage.

"Personally, I find it really hard to separate the man from the film when he wrote, directed and starred in it," Marcia Nasatir, an Academy member in the executives branch, told THR. "Do I want to see a movie from someone who has committed an assault against a woman and who I do not think recognizes his guilt? Right now, based on what I've read, I would not go to the movie."