The outrage surrounding new revelations in Nate Parker‘s 1999 rape trial recently compelled The American Film Institute to cancel a "The Birth of a Nation" screening and Q&A with Parker. As the movie’s auteur and star moves through the industry fallout of those revelations—which inclue the fact that his accuser committed suicide in 2012—both Harry Belafonte and a group of Pennsylvania State University alumni spoke out in support of Parker.
"It’s interesting because it’s coming out the same time the film’s coming out," said Belafonte of the new attention on the trial, in which Parker and his "The Birth of a Nation" co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of raping a fellow Penn State student. "Of all the stories you can tell, why are you telling this story? And if he was somebody who had committed a crime and got away with it, but he faced the justice system," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday (August 23).
The longtime entertainer and racial justice activist called Parker’s film on Nat Turner’s slave rebellion "a winner," wondering if "this [is] going to be the price that young Black women and men pay for making films of substance?"
A group of Penn State alumni who say they witnessed the trial released a statement via The Root last night (August 24). LaKeisha Wolf, Dr. Assata Richards, Lurie Daniel Favors and Brian Favors’ joint statement emphasized the importance of campus racial tension between White and Black students at the time (which was described in an undergraduate thesis linked in the statement):
We recognize that racism and White supremacy have historically combined around notions of sexuality and at times have created climates where lynch mob mentalities resulted in the destruction of entire Black communities and Black lives. Many of us viewed this incident involving Mr. Celestin and Mr. Parker as yet another example of the blatant racism and violent hostility faced by Black students on Penn State’s campus
Listing 10 points they found important to understanding the trial (including details they say the media selectively ignored), the group denied that Black students harrassed the woman, while acknowledging the need for a public "discussion about misogyny, misogynoir and toxic masculinity."
As we reported last week, Parker was acquitted of rape charges, while Celestin served time in prison before being granted a new trial. The second trial never happened, as prosecutors reportedly found it too difficult to assemble witnesses.