Nate Parker on Friday night opened up about the controversy surrounding the rape trial he faced in college during a panel in Los Angeles.
Speaking for the first time about his 1999 rape allegation since it resurfaced — previously, he had only posted a statement on Facebook — the writer-director-star turned talk to his younger self and male culture during a screening for his film, The Birth of a Nation, at the Merge Summit.
After the culmination of the historical biopic, which tells the story of Nat Turner’s failed slave rebellion, Parker was asked why he chose to make “yet another slave film” and said it was “difficult to talk about injustice and not deal with what’s happening right now,” referencing the current firestorm around him.
In 1999, the filmmaker, and Jean Celestin, who shares a story-by credit with Parker on Birth, were accused of raping a female student while at Penn State University. Parker was acquitted of the charges; Celestin was originally found guilty, but the conviction was later overturned.
While promoting Birth, Parker addressed the allegations in interviews and it was subsequently revealed that the woman who accused the two men committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.
“When I was first met with the news that this part of my past had come up, my knee-jerk reaction was selfish,” said Parker during the Q&A, according to Ebony, who also spoke with the filmmaker after the panel. “I wasn’t thinking about even the potential hurt of others; I was thinking about myself.”
Speaking about male privilege, Parker, now 36, admitted: “I never thought about it. I’m walking around daring someone to say something or do something that I define is racist or holding us back, but never really thinking about male culture and the destructive effect it’s having on our community.”
This was the first Birth event that Parker has attended since the controversy began. While the American Film Institute’s Conservatory on Tuesday called off a screening and Q&A with Parker, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs stood by the movie, encouraging people to see it and judge the film, not Parker.
Birth, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and was immediately picked up by Fox Searchlight, will play at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September before hitting theaters in October.
According to a video posted on social media from Friday’s event, Parker offered an apology to women over his past behaviors and called his younger self a “dog.”
“The way I treated women, objectified women,” he said. “My manhood was defined by how many women I could be with. I was a dog. I was wrong. I hurt a lot of women. And that was normal for me, in respect to how I treated them emotionally. I was introduced to sex in a certain way.”
Parker continued about his adolescence: “That type of male culture, that type of hypermasculinity where your manhood is determined by how many women you get to say ‘yes,’ is destructive.”
A video posted by Herb “The Ent Specialist” (@herbtheentspec) on
Speaking in a lengthy interview with Ebony afterwards, Parker admitted: “I never thought about consent as a definition, especially as I do now.”
“Put it this way: when you’re 19, a threesome is normal. It’s fun,” he said. “When you’re 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about — for me, back then — if you can get a girl to say ‘yes,’ you win.”
He admitted that he couldn’t remember ever having a conversation about consent when he was younger.
“Back then, it felt like: at 19, if a woman said ‘no,’ no meant no,” he said. “If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go? … It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent.”
He added that now, at age 36, “I’m learning about definitions that I should have known when I started having sex.”
Parker also admitted that he hadn’t thought about the incident “at all,” prompting the interviewer to add: “That’s going to come off very … privileged.”
And he agreed.
“Listen to me when I say I’m understanding that I’m dealing with a problem, like an addiction,” said Parker. “I’m a work in progress. I’m trying to be better. I feel remorse for all the women that are survivors that felt I was being insensitive because I was. And I want to have a better understanding of how I can be more of an ally, if they’ll accept me. There will be people who won’t accept me, and that’s okay. All I can do is say that I stand for justice and really learn more about this issue so I can be a better ally of this issue.”
The entertainment industry began to weigh in on social media as the interview made the rounds on Saturday, promping reactions from Roxane Gay, who last week wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about how she won’t see the film, MTV News correspondent Jamil Smith and others.
See the reactions below and read Ebony‘s full interview with Parker here.
Okay, @nateparker. I see you listening. And trying to grow. I don’t know what to think but I see you.
— roxane gay (@rgay) August 27, 2016
I’m glad @NateParker is showing signs of understanding consent and toxic masculinity. Much too late for him, but perhaps it’ll help others.
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) August 27, 2016
— jen yamato (@jenyamato) August 27, 2016
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) August 27, 2016