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Nate Parker, the filmmaker whose Sundance sensation The Birth of a Nation was derailed by resurfaced news of a college rape trial, is testing the waters for a comeback.
According to sources, Parker is putting together a shortform digital series titled Baselines about a Los Angeles family intent on protecting their son and his basketball dreams from the dangers of inner-city life.
If the project comes together, Baselines would mark Parker’s first Hollywood effort after retreating from the spotlight following the November 2016 release of Birth of a Nation, his directorial debut, which he also starred in, produced and wrote. At the time, Parker was facing down a media firestorm over a 17-year-old rape case from his days at Penn State University and the subsequent suicide of his accuser. He was acquitted in the case and has maintained that he was unjustly charged.
The situation predated the current #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, so Parker’s new project will be closely watched by industry insiders to see if he’s able to mount a return to Hollywood in the current climate, and if so, how audiences respond.
Parker’s representatives did not return a request for comment, but according to a Baselines casting breakdown obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, auditions are scheduled to start Thursday with callbacks falling on Friday. Filming is expected to run approximately one week, kicking off Feb. 16. Parker is not trying to do this secretively. His name appears at the top of the listing along with a mention of the title of his directorial debut and a description of the new project. It is composed of 10 short-form episodes totaling six to eight minutes each.
The storyline will follow a tight-knit family as they struggle to “protect its aspiring pro basketball player from the dangers of inner city Los Angeles.” Parker is directing and writing “this raw beautiful story about family, passion and betrayal,” reads the breakdown, which goes on to detail that the project is in the vein of such films and TV shows as Animal Kingdom, Queen Sugar, Sons of Anarchy and American Honey. “This is Sons of Anarchy meets The Crypts,” reads the description.
The goal? “To push for a series pick up,” it states.
Parker and his team — led by casting director Kelly Knox (Turnt, Monster Butler) — are searching for a diverse cast made up primarily of “black/African American” actors who appear as if they are new to the game, seemingly “as if I pulled them from the streets to be in this. Raw, gritty, not-insecure.” Name actors are being considered, it says. Lukas Behnken, a German-born actor, writer and producer, is producing the project for Tiny Giant Entertainment and Sterling Light.
It’s unclear if any of the roles have been cast. Attempts to reach Parker were unsuccessful.
Parker, 38, has largely kept a low profile following the 2016 controversy. He hasn’t been active on Twitter since December of that year, and most of his Instagram activity has centered on his nonprofit group, The Nate Parker Foundation, which “leverages film and philanthropy to transform the quality of Black lives through education, cultural enrichment, social justice, and economic empowerment.”
Birth of a Nation — a longtime labor of love for Parker about enslaved Baptist preacher Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in 1831 — was picked up by Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million following a rapturous reception at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The film drew high praise from influencers such as Oprah Winfrey, and it appeared as though Parker was positioned for a high-profile awards-season run.
At that time, the industry was facing an awards season dominated by #OscarSoWhite, and the film looked to be a step in the right direction toward addressing Hollywood’s inclusivity issues. Cheers were quickly followed by controversy, however, when the rape case from Parker’s past resurfaced. Though it had been reported on and was noted on his Wikipedia page, soon media outlets were reporting on what happened 17 years earlier during his days as a wrestler at Penn State.
When he was 19, Parker faced accusations from a female student who claimed that he and another Penn State wrestler — his friend and Birth of a Nation collaborator Jean Celestin — sexually assaulted her. The men were arrested and the case went to trial, though Parker was acquitted and has maintained his innocence. The accuser, it was revealed, committed suicide in 2012.
Parker, who is married and has six children, did not shy away from questions about the case, and he did several high-profile media interviews to address what happened, including appearances on 60 Minutes and Steve Harvey. Birth of a Nation disappointed at the box office, earning $15.8 million, and Fox Searchlight pulled back from its awards campaign for the film.
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