Nate Parker's 'American Skin' Added to Venice Lineup

Nate Parker - 2017 69th Annual DGA Awards - Getty - H 2018
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The film is Parker's first feature after 'The Birth of a Nation,' the release of which was overshadowed by resurfaced rape claims against the actor-director.

The world premiere of Nate Parker’s American Skin has been added to the Venice lineup in the festival’s Sconfini section, a non-competitive section that typically includes art house or genre films.

Parker plays a Marine veteran, Lincoln Jefferson, a janitor trying to make amends with his son after his divorce. One day during a routine police check, the boy is killed, and the officer is let off the hook. Jefferson takes the entire police station hostage and stages an actual trial using the inmates as the jury, taking due process into his own hands.

Spike Lee will present American Skin with Parker in Venice and participate in a discussion after the screening.

The film is Parker's first feature, and second overall, since the 2016 release of the actor's debut film, The Birth of a Nation, which was overshadowed by resurfaced rape claims against the actor-director.

The Birth of a Nation, about the Nat Turner slave uprising, was a splashy, record $17 million acquisition for Fox Searchlight out of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience award and Grand Jury Prize.

But the film’s release later that year was tainted by the resurfacing of a 1999 incident when Parker was a sophomore at Penn State University. A woman had accused Parker and his roommate Jean McGianni Celestin, who shared a story credit on Birth, of raping her while she was intoxicated and unconscious.

Parker, who admitted he had consensual sex with the woman the night before, was acquitted of all four counts brought against him. Celestin's conviction was later overturned on appeal.

According to a briefing filed by the accuser’s attorneys, “Parker and Celestin began an organized campaign to harass Jane Doe and make her fear for her safety.” The briefing alleged that Parker followed her around campus and at her dormitory and “hurled sexual epithets” at her as well as made harassing phone calls to her room. She attempted suicide two times in 1999 and later withdrew from attending classes. When she returned four months later, according to court documents, the harassment continued.

Following the resurfacing of the news, it came to light that the still tormented victim committed suicide at age 30 in 2012. 

Parker was widely criticized for his handling of the case, always maintaining that his sex with the victim was consensual, failing to show any remorse and repeatedly making media appearances about himself. 

Venice Film Festival has been unapologetic about inviting men accused of sexual assault to its lineup despite their banishment elsewhere. Leading up to the #MeToo movement in 2017, Venice premiered the latest film from James Toback, who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than 400 women. Last year the festival celebrated another alleged abuser, Bruce Weber. And this year a film by Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the U.S. for a 1978 statutory rape conviction, will screen in competition.

“I think we should always make a distinction between the artist and the man,” festival director Alberto Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter this year following the lineup announcement.

English film producer Graeme A. Scott’s directorial debut Beyond the Beach: The Hell and the Hope, about the work of the NGO Emergency, has also been added to the lineup.

The 2019 Venice Film Festival takes place Aug. 28-Sept. 7.