By Darlene Donloe
TORONTO – Sept. 11, 2016 - Nate Parker is not ready to apologize. At least he wasn’t ready to at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where he and his cast participated in a press conference for the film, Birth Of A Nation.
Confronted with the question of whether he would apologize for a claimed sexual assault of which he was acquitted in 2001, Parker said, “This is a forum for the film. It is not mine, it does not belong to me.”
This is a peculiar time for Parker who, earlier this year was considered Hollywood’s newest golden boy when Birth Of A Nation gained notoriety for having wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival and nabbing a $17.5 million deal with Fox Searchlight.
Parker was applauded and lauded for having taken a chance on an unpopular film genre, by using his own money and raising even more money to produce a film about a little known American hero named Nat Turner.
Fast forward and Parker, who has been vilified in the press and in the court of pubic opinion after the incidence resurfaced, finds he’s having to, once again, defend himself against the 17 year old charges.
If that were not enough, the movie, which has been highly-anticipated for months, is suffering the slings and arrows of it leader’s controversial past. Some moviegoers have vowed not to support the film because they don’t want to appear to support an “alleged” rapist – even though Parker was acquitted of all of the charges.
It was recently learned that his accuser committed suicide in 2012. Parker didn’t release a statement about the incident – leaving many to shake their heads.
To the press and to the public, due to the way Parker talked about the 1999 rape allegation, he didn’t seem contrite. In fact, some have even accused him of being arrogant.
Parker has not run from the story. In fact, he talked about the incident openly to Variety and Deadline and then again at the recent Merge Summit in Los Angeles.
At the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Birth Of A Nation received a standing ovation. The gesture, according to Colman Domingo who stars in the film, moved several members of the cast, who were waiting backstage.
“I was hugging Nate, said Domingo, who plays a slave named Hark. “We were all hugging each other. It was very emotional.”
At the press conference, held at the Fairmont Hotel, Parker didn’t answer any questions about the incident directly. Instead he sidestepped many questions, instead deciding to focus on the film.
He talked about how the film was a joint effort and how everyone from the craft services to grips and gaffers worked on the film with little pay.
“Everyone felt that they were involved,” said Parker.
Parker’s cast had his back – even asking the 100 or more journalists in the room to join the movement in support of the film.
“We own the film, it’s our film,” said Domingo.
“This isn’t the Nate Parker story,” said Penelope Ann Miller, who played Elizabeth Turner, a slave-owner in the movie. “ This is the Nat Turner story.”
As she has been in the past, Gabrielle Union, who was raped at gunpoint at age 19 while working at Payless Shoes, was very vocal in her support of the film and even joked about how some people think she threw Parker “under the bus” with her previous op-ed piece.
Scene from 'The Birth Of A Nation'
In her op-ed piece she talked about concerns about the case. She never accused Parker and, in not doing so, many thought she was sympathetic to his drama.
“Five percent feels I threw Nate under the bus, and five percent feels I’m a rape apologist,” said Union. “I invite those two five percents to talk to each other.”
But Union was also quick to talk about the importance of the film.
“We’re not creating a movie, we’re creating a movement,” said Union. “I’ve been a part of important projects. I’ve always said when they do the Nat Turner story, I don’t care if I’m doing craft services or if I’m the grip. I just want to be a part of telling the story. When The Birth Of A Nation came across it sat on my desk for a couple of weeks. I saw the title and thought, ‘What crackpot thought this was a good idea?’ Then I learned it’s the Nat Turner story.”
Although Union is only in two brief scenes in the movie, her role is pivotal in Turner’s decision to start a revolution.
“It was the best 12 minutes of my life,” quipped Union, who plays a slave named Esther. “Don’t tell my husband.”
Union’s character doesn’t speak in the film. She and Parker thought it was more powerful for her not to do so.
“She was written with lines,” explained Union. “It was more powerful for her not to have lines. Not to speak. It was more important to put a face to violence that has used us throughout history. It was more important to be a symbol or a face that people could recognize. It was important to put a face to violence. Throughout our history this has been used as a weapon of mass destruction to destroy the human psyche and the soul and the body.”
Before the controversial allegations surfaced, Parker was slated to do a college tour this fall. A reporter asked if it was still going forward and whether Parker would address the rise in assaults on college campuses.
“I can’t speak for Fox,” said Parker. “From what I understand, we’re going forward.”
Asked, once again, to respond to the allegations, Parker appeared unruffled. He was calm, collected and apparently well coached.
“I’ve addressed it,” said Parker dressed in a gray suit, white shirt, white pocket square and gray/black and white striped tie. “I’ll address it more.”