The Birth of a Nation writer-director-star Nate Parker made an appearance on Wednesday’s episode of Steve Harvey to discuss the ongoing scandal around past allegations of rape made against him, which resulted in a trial at which Parker was acquitted. But the incident has resurfaced in the months leading up to the film’s theatrical release.
The filmmaker was quick to call out the media for provoking controversy, telling Harvey that reading “salacious” headlines written about the 1999 incident made him wonder, “‘What are these journalists trying to do? Do they care about anyone involved? Do they care about what we’ve been talking about?’ I think it’s been a tragedy on so many levels.”
Parker, who also produced the slave rebellion drama, clarified that when he first began to make public statements regarding the resurfaced allegations, which were made against him when he was a 19-year-old student at Penn State, he was unaware that his accuser had committed suicide in 2012.
“It shocked my soul. To hear that news — I wasn’t prepared for it. I thought maybe she’d pop up once [the accusations] resurfaced,” Parker said. “When this happened, and I spoke to it, it was insensitive. I caught a lot of flak for it, for being indignant and saying, ‘I’m innocent. I was falsely accused so that’s that!’ — not realizing that, one, there should be empathy for any woman.”
He continued, “It was devastating to hear that I, at any point, had a connection with someone that felt like it was time for them to take their own life.”
The director went on to criticize news outlets for what he saw as biased coverage of the trial, asking, “Are we in the business of headlines or are we in the business of healing? … I can get upset with the media and be mad, or I can say what can come out of this that can be productive.”
Harvey chimed in, stating that he thought it was “a bit unfair” that the tragic suicide of Parker’s accuser was immediately tied to an event that happened 13 years prior, and that the blame had subsequently fallen on Parker. “If you are a black man in this country, and you get accused of raping a white woman, your chances of walking out of that courtroom is slim to none,” he said.
Parker noted that the one positive thing to come out of all of the negative publicity surrounding his film is the chance to bring the issue of rape to the forefront.
“We need to talk about something that is epidemic in America that no one’s talking about. If my film or if this moment has to be something that puts our eyes and the spotlight on it, then so be it — and that is sexual violence against women by men in this country,” he told Harvey. “What I’ve learned in going through all this is there are so many survivors that you would never even know.”
Parker revealed that he began receiving text messages from supporters who wanted to come forward and share their own experiences dealing with sexual assault. The flood of messages led him to have an open conversation with his four younger sisters, one of whom is a survivor of rape.
The director told Harvey he asked his family, “Is there any way I can use my platform to raise awareness about this, because guess what? The media ain’t covering that.”
When asked what he would tell his younger self if he had the opportunity, Parker said he would explain the implications of male privilege and misconceived notions about masculinity.
“The whole idea of sexual conquest — meaning affirming myself, self-esteem, all these things — I’d break down all of those things from a behavioral standpoint,” he added. “Even outside of this tragic situation, I have so much empathy and even regret for that night. Man, you want to talk about erasing something? … Looking at myself [back then], the ideas of what I thought made a man aren’t the same as the ideas in my mind right now.”
In a previous appearance on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, Parker declined to apologize for the scandal, emphasizing that he didn’t “feel guilty.”
“I went to court, and I sat in trial. I was vindicated,” he told host Anderson Cooper. “I was proven innocent, and I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. Her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is — no.”
Birth of a Nation hits theaters Friday and is currently tracking for a $7 million to $8 million debut.