*Nate Parker’s heralded slave drama “The Birth of a Nation” had been positioned as a major Oscar contender, but that outlook is bleak now that the indie darling has been shrouded in controversy because of a two-decade old rape case against the director/actor.
As we’ve reported, Parker was accused — and later acquitted — of raping a fellow student while at Penn State in 1999. The incident was already known, including by the studio backing the film, but when Variety recently revealed that Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30, it ignited a wave of vitriol against him on social media. Nate added fuel to the fire when he confessed to not knowing about the suicide until the Variety article came out.
His disclosure, combined with the revelation of explicit details from the case, have had many call for a boycott of the film, and in Los Angeles, posters for “The Birth of a Nation,” depicting Parker as the rebellion slave leader Nat Turner, were altered to read “Rapist?” by a street artist.
The posters feature Parker with an American flag twisted into a noose around his neck. Under his image is the word “Rapist” with a question mark. According to THR.com, the altered movie posters are the work of a street artist named Sabo.
“I was very offended when I first saw the original poster,” Sabo tells The Hollywood Reporter. “What it tells young, influential blacks is that their country is out to hang them, that they don’t stand a chance so why try?”
Sabo plastered his ‘Rapist’ movie posters at bus stops and on telephone poles around West LA, near the Fox lot. Fox Searchlight Pictures paid a record $17.5 million to acquire the film.
Parker and his college roommate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were both charged with raping an 18-year-old woman when they were all students at Penn State. The alleged rapists were 19 at the time of their arrests. Critics say they were acquitted of rape because they were students on Penn State’s wrestling team. The university has a reputation of protecting athletes who violate women.
Parker, who wrote, directed and stars in ‘Nation’, was acquitted of raping the woman. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, but his conviction was later overturned. He also has a writing credit in “Birth of a Nation.”
The irony that a slave movie was written by 2 accused rapists.
In an interview with Variety, the woman’s brother said she committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills in a mental facility in 2012.
“It’s hard,” he said, “seeing my sister’s life slowly crumble while these men are by all accounts relatively successful and thriving.”
He added: “I feel certain if this were to happen in 2016, the outcome would be different than it was. Courts are a lot stricter about this kind of thing. You don’t touch someone who is so intoxicated — period.”
*Fox Searchlight has no plans to remove Nate Parker from the upcoming press junkets for his film “The Birth of a Nation” despite the headlines surrounding the rape accusations against him, when he was a student at Penn State.
According to Variety, he will be front and center at the film’s Toronto Film Festival premiere next month, and participate in a scheduled media junket.
He will also remain on the bill as scheduled during upcoming promotions in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston and San Francisco.
Although there has been speculation that the controversy surrounding news of the 2001 rape trial would imperil “The Birth of a Nation’s” Oscar chances, Fox Searchlight management considers that a secondary concern, sources say. The company, which is opening the movie wide on Oct. 7, as planned, is more interested in the film being a commercial success than it is with capturing awards. Fox spent a whopping $17.5 million to acquire the picture at Sundance and is prepared to make a “big media spend,” according to a source familiar with the plans.
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