Nate Parker Declines to Apologize Over Rape Trial Scandal, Says "I Don't Feel Guilty" in '60 Minutes' Interview
"I was falsely accused. I went to court, and I sat in trial. ... I was vindicated. 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."
Nate Parker is making no apologies about the 17-year-old rape case that has mired his film The Birth of a Nation in controversy.
Parker sat down with Anderson Cooper for a piece that aired on Sunday's edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, just days ahead of Birth of a Nation's release in theaters.
Asked if he feels guilty about anything, Parker replied: "I don't feel guilty."
But does he feel he did anything morally wrong? "As a Christian man, just being in that situation, yeah, sure," he said. "I'm 36 years old right now, and my faith is very important to me. So looking back through that lens, it's not the lens I had when I was 19 years old."
Parker, who stars in, directed, co-wrote and co-produced Birth of a Nation, was accused of rape when he was a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University. He was acquitted in the case.
Asked if he wanted to apologize, Parker replied: "I'll say this. I do think it's tragic, so much of what happened and [what] the family had to endure with respect to this woman not being here. I don't want to harp on this and be disrespectful of them, but at some point I have to say it: I was falsely accused. I went to court, and I sat in trial. I was vind— [choking up]. I was vindicated. 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 debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was hailed as an antidote to the then-raging #OscarsSoWhite backlash. Parker's film immediately sparked widespread Oscar expectations and a bidding war among distributors. Fox Searchlight, an Academy Awards regular, landed it for a festival record $17.5 million, with the assurance of a nationwide release. It is set to open in theaters Friday. But the newfound attention on Parker put a spotlight on the rape case.
Asked if he saw the Birth of a Nation posters around Los Angeles that had been Photoshopped by a prolific street artist into a rape allegation against the writer-director-star, Parker said he hadn't seen them but had "heard" about them, adding, "I don't want to make myself a victim."
Parker was acquitted, though his college roommate Jean Celestin (who helped create The Birth of a Nation) was initially found guilty of sexual assault. That conviction was later overturned.
Parker and Celestin allegedly harassed the accuser on campus. The incident spawned a successful civil lawsuit by the woman against the college. But the accuser, after several previous attempts, committed suicide in 2012.
"I had no idea," Parker said in his 60 Minutes interview. "I found out in the news. I was devastated. It was shocking. I couldn't believe it."
Asked if it was a "mistake" to have Celestin involved in Birth of a Nation, Parker said no.
"I don't think so at all. The reality is Jean went to jail for something he did not do, so when it was time to write the story, I said, 'I want you to help with this.'"
Still, the criticism over Celestin's association with the movie has surprised him.
Parker also shot down criticism that the film isn't "100 percent historically accurate," as Cooper put it, arguing that no movie has ever been. "That's why we say 'based on a true story,' not 'a true story.'"
He added that the movie, about slave Nat Turner's unsuccessful rebellion attempt, is relevant to what's happening today.
"There's a line in the film where his wife says, 'People are killing people everywhere for no reason at all but for being black,'" said Parker. "This was normal then. So, too, is it now in many ways, where unarmed black men are being killed and there is no recourse. And we're becoming desensitized to that."
In recent weeks, Parker has sought to deflect attention from himself. At a closely watched press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Parker deflected questions about the case.
Asked by Cooper how he feels about the possibility that some people won't see the movie because of Parker's own controversy, he replied: "I do feel that's unfortunate. I think that Nat Turner, as a hero, what he did in history, is bigger than me. I think it's bigger than all of us."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.