Harry Belafonte Questions Timing of Resurfaced Nate Parker Rape Trial, Praises 'Birth of a Nation'

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Harry Belafonte

The performer and activist says the 1999 rape trial case, which resurfaced ahead of the film's Oct. 7 release, is "history." Of 'Birth,' he says: "This film is touching a lot of consciousness. Why isn't that the story?"

NEW YORK (AP) — Harry Belafonte says it's unfair that Nate Parker's shining moment with his film The Birth of a Nation is being overshadowed by a 17-year-old rape case. But the iconic performer and activist adds that he's not clear about the facts and wants to look more into the story that's been dominating entertainment headlines.

Belafonte said Tuesday in an interview with the Associated Press that he saw Parker's upcoming Nat Turner slave rebellion drama and was wowed by the project. He called the film "a winner" and called the 36-year-old Parker — who directed, wrote, produced and starred in the pic — "a very bright young man."

But concerning the rape case, Belafonte, 89, said, "I don't even know what the facts are. I don't know what the truth is."

Yet he also questioned why the old case just happened to resurface ahead of the film's Oct. 7 release.

"It's interesting because it's coming out the same time the film's coming out. Of all the stories you can tell, why are you telling this story? And if he was somebody who had committed a crime and got away with it, but he faced the justice system," said Belafonte.

"The fact that [the system] may have screwed up, the fact that it didn't really take care of justice, the fact that he should have been punished or whatever, is history," the singer added. "The fact is that he was confronted and then he did go through the process. Why are you bringing this up now? What has he done that requires this kind of animus?"

Parker was on the road to Oscar glory after Birth won key prizes at the Sundance Film Festival in January and was sold to Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million. Yet earlier this month, the Hollywood trade press began to run stories about a 1999 rape allegation made against Parker when he was a student and wrestler at Penn State University.

Parker was acquitted, but his college roommate and Birth collaborator Jean Celestin was initially found guilty of sexual assault. It was later overturned when the accuser declined to testify for a retrial. The accuser, after several previous attempts, committed suicide in 2012.

"How do I put it in a perspective that helps me with greater clarity understand why this is the consequence of something he's done by getting this high-profile, 'cause this film is touching a lot of consciousness. Why isn't that the story?" Belafonte asked.

"And is this going to be the price that young black women and men pay for making films of substance?" he continued. "Are they going to dig in and get dirt instead of fruit? What are we doing here? And where is the voice that defends him if he in fact is worthy of defending?"