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The writer/director/star earned a round of applause from the full house when he was brought on stage to introduce and speak about the film. “This has been such a labor of love for us and we are just desperately proud to present it to you,” he said, receiving more applause before departing the stage as the lights went down and the movie began to play.
Parker and his cast left the theater to introduce a second screening, set to begin an hour later, at the near-by Elgin Theater.
Sending Birth to Toronto for a series of five screenings and having Parker accompany it (for a press conference and to the introduce the film) represented a high-risk, high-reward prospect for Fox Searchlight, given the attention that has surrounded the 1999 rape case in which Parker was involved.
There was the risk that the controversy could draw attention away from the film and towards Parker. Numerous Academy members have told The Hollywood Reporter they will not even see the film, let alone consider voting for it. But if things went without incident and the pic was cheered as it was in Park City, where it first debuted, Searchlight may be able to revive the film’s awards prospects.
Parker, whose movie won both the grand jury and audience prizes at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was sold to Fox Searchlight for a Sundance-record $17.5 million, has been at the center of firestorm since the filmmaker granted a series of interviews in mid-August in which he addressed rape allegations made against him and his friend Jean Celestin, when they were students at Penn State in 1999. Parker was found not guilty, while Celestin, with whom Parker later co-authored the story for Birth, was found guilty of sexual assault, but that verdict was overturned. The victim committed suicide in 2012.
“When we look at our political situation, at Black Lives Matter, what do you see in your community that is unjust, and what are you willing to do to stand against that thing?” the helmer added.
In response to a question from the audience, Gabrielle Union came closest to talking about Parker’s personal past when, after intimating she and the director had possibly made up, the actress talked about life being about evolving into better people.
“We’re all capable of evolution,” she said. “That’s why everyone up here is on this stage. It’s about personal evolution. Did I leave this job in a better place than when I started?” she questioned. “I was firmly committed to not doing the best projects. Now I can’t go back,” Union added about her career ambitions.
“You commit yourself to an evolution and humble ourselves that we don’t have all the answers, that there’s things we firmly root ourselves in, and may not be the right course, and may not be on the right side of history,” Union said at one point.
“So if you’re wondering about Colin Kaepernick,” the actress said, referring to the NFL player who recently chose not to stand for the American national anthem to protest racial injustices, “he’s on the right side of history. There’s nothing more patriotic than resistance,” Union added to another round of sustained applause.
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