Look, I won’t lie to anyone out there. Writing this post hurts my soul for a variety of reasons. I’m struggling to find a way to convey my feelings about the entire situation without being problematic. Maybe that’s not a good way to start an article, but everyone who reads this blog knows I’m brutally honest in regards to my point of view. With that being said, I feel like there are two different conversations at play in this Nate Parker scenario: rape culture and Black equality. While I won’t be one to act like I have all of the answers, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about this ordeal.
Now, before I get started, let’s just briefly talk about Parker. The 36-year-old actor and director is currently ascending to the apex of his film career. After performances in films such as Beyond the Lights, Red Tails and The Great Debaters, Parker has reached the height of his critical acclaim with his newest film, The Birth of a Nation. After writing, directing and starring in the movie, his work gained the attention of Hollywood‘s power players after it received rave reviews and the largest deal in Sundance Film Festival history. However; while riding high from his newfound success, a very dark chapter of his history recently resurfaced.
Back in 1999, while attending Penn State University, Parker and his roommate, Jean Celestin, were charged with raping an 18-year-old classmate. Apparently, after a night of drinking, Parker brought the woman back to his apartment, and despite her physical state, engaged in sex with her. To make matters worse, Celestin, who was also in the apartment, decided to join in on the sexual assault. During the subsequent trial, several witnesses testified to the woman being visibly drunk, despite Parker and Celestin suggesting otherwise. In addition, in recorded phone calls that were used at trial, Parker can be heard telling the woman that she “put [herself] in that situation.” However; all of these factors weren’t enough to convict Parker. Based on the fact he and the woman had a consensual sexual encounter the night before, he avoided going down for his crime. Now, while Celestin was originally convicted for his involvement in this situation, he appealed his sentence and skated because the prosecution was unable to once again secure witness testimony.
The saddest part of this whole episode is the fact this woman was harassed by not only Parker and Celestin, but the Penn State campus as a whole. Since both men were star wrestlers at the school, they had plenty of people caping for them and coming to their defense. In classic “victim blaming” fashion, they questioned her character and the validity of her claims, all while championing the men who abused her. Ultimately, this caused her to attempt suicide twice before actually succeeding on her third try in 2012. While Parker recently tried to get ahead of the story and express his “regret” in a lengthy Facebook post, this doesn’t change the course of events or make them even remotely alright.
For me, the reaction from some Black people about this case is truly troubling. If anyone scours through social media, they’ll find various conspiracy theories of the “powers that be” trying to take down a successful Black man. These theories point to the fact the rape case against Parker only surfaced as he was gearing up to put out his aforementioned film about Nat Turner. Side note, for anyone who’s unaware, Turner was a historical figure who led a slave rebellion in 1831, which resulted in the deaths of about sixty five White people. Ultimately, Turner was captured and murdered for his insurgence.
In the eyes of Parker’s supporters, it comes as no surprise that the character of a Black director who decided to speak about a Black hero has come under attack. In the age of #OscarsSoWhite, Black people have frequently expressed the desire to be treated equally in Hollywood. Whether it comes down to securing better acting roles or more opportunities to direct big-budget films, Black people want to be looked at in the same light as their White counterparts. While this is also important to me, it does NOT excuse what Parker did, man. He violated a woman, belittled her plight in the aftermath, and even now, he speaks about how all of this has affected HIM. He’s not the victim here! In actuality, the real victim is dead because she couldn’t cope with how the justice system failed her. I’ve seen Bill Cosby‘s supporters use the same type of “conspiracy” defense, but why won’t we hold our own accountable for the fucked up shit they do? Overall racial inequality doesn’t give us the excuse to take advantage of other people. When it comes to both Parker and Cosby, they victimized people who couldn’t defend themselves. Individuals like that do NOT deserve our sympathy or support, regardless of what ideal we believe they represent.
In the end, I’m completely conflicted about seeing this movie. On one hand, I want Black people to excel in every facet, especially the historically segregated film industry. However; I find it very hard to give money to someone who has committed such an atrocity. Look, I’ve never been a hypocrite, son. I’ve cut off Cosby and R. Kelly for these same reasons. Ultimately, I guess I just wish a better human being were receiving Parker’s accolades. Good day.