Nate Parker on Rape Allegations Controversy: 'I Don't Want to Hijack This With My Personal Life'
The 'Birth of a Nation' director left the job of convincing filmgoers to see the pic in theaters, despite concerns over his personal past, to fellow castmembers.
Nate Parker on Sunday chose not to directly address the college rape allegations overshadowing his film, The Birth of a Nation, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
"I don't want to hijack this with my personal life," Parker told a press conference for his pic at the Royal York Hotel.
"I've discussed this a few times. I'm sure I'll address this in different forums. But this is a forum for the film, this is a forum for other people sitting on the stage. It's not mine," he added, before insisting he wanted to talk about his first directorial effort and those that helped him bring it to the screen.
That meant not taking an opportunity when offered by a reporter's question to apologize to his late accuser's family. "There is no one person that makes a film. Over 400 people made this film. We were gone for almost 15 weeks. I would encourage everyone to remember that I’m just one person," Parker answered at one point instead.
He then left it to fellow castmembers as surrogates to urge audiences to separate the film from its creator and come out to see it when Fox Searchlight rolls it out.
"It would be a shame if people didn't get an opportunity to see this movie and judge it for itself," actress Penelope Ann Miller told reporters. "Yes, it started with Nate, but we all, once we took this job, we all felt it and it literally seeped through to every crewmember."
"This movie is the song we are singing in our heart. We need to communicate because we are being beaten by a baton," Aujanue Ellis added, echoing her fellow castmembers. Gabrielle Union, who plays Esther, said the film will speak to anyone looking to end injustice everywhere.
"If you're a decent human being who wants to take part in a conversation at the very least, about the things that bug the crap out of you, this movie is for you, and I hope you don't sit it out," said Union.
The Sundance breakout was on its way to awards-season contention until Parker's resurfaced rape trial details cast a shadow over the powerful film and upcoming commercial release. While Parker chose to talk around the controversy when questioned about his personal past on Sunday, Union, who was raped at age 19 and plays a silent character who is sexually assaulted in the indie film, was more direct.
The actress in a recent column in the Los Angeles Times revealed her "stomach-churning confusion" after learning that Parker was accused and acquitted of rape. Parker and Union have since apparently talked about the controversy to iron out any differences.
"I talked extensively with Gabrielle [Union] about different things. But when I made this film, and I often say it, healing comes with confrontation with the past. So as we move forward with this film, we need to deal with injustice everywhere," Parker said in a veiled reference to his personal past.
Union told reporters graphic details about her own past sexual assault, and about the daily thanks she receives for bringing the issue out into the open. "I think we're all craving acknowledgement that we're real, that we exist, that we live among you, that we are your mothers, your brothers, your sisters," she said of herself and other survivors of sexual violence.
Parker's first-time directorial effort about a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831 got a lift to rehabilitation in Toronto after the indie received standing ovations at overlapping screenings on Friday that included no heckling or other disruptions.
The question now is will Academy voters and cinema audiences everywhere similarly look past the creator's personal history only recently brought to light to the content of an indie film looking to illuminate a U.S. antebellum South history long kept in the dark. The presser, and the progress of Birth of a Nation, is being closely watched in Toronto by the film's producers: Bron Studios, Phantom Four, Mandalay Pictures and Tiny Giant Productions.
They watched as Parker's American slave resistance drama picked up for $17.5 million at Sundance by Fox Searchlight got sidetracked on its likely way to the Oscars by the sudden debate over the director's past. Looking to get the conversation back on his film, Parker and his cast on Sunday talked extensively about the pic's message about injustices past and present.
Colman Domingo, who plays Hark in Birth of a Nation, echoed fellow castmembers in insisting the film aims in part to start a conversation about racial injustice in the U.S. "We are examining an enormous stain on American history," he told reporters.
"Until we continue to confront our history, there won't be peace," Domingo continued. "There's no peace in the streets right now, there's blood in the streets, and it's on everyone's hands, because we're not facing our truth. ... Birth of a Nation is a gigantic tool that will help us examine who we are."