Nate Parker Addresses His College Rape Acquittal

Photo: Jim Smeal/REX.
It's only August, but Nate Parker's historical drama about the Nat Turner uprising, The Birth of a Nation, is already an Oscar front-runner. The film, which he wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, earned the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and Parker is a Sundance Institute darling, having received the Vanguard Award this week.

Just before he received the award, according to a new report from Deadline, Parker sat down with a reporter from the site to address an incident from his past. Back when they were roommates at Penn State, Parker and his Birth of a Nation co-creator Jean McGianni Celestin were accused of having nonconsensual sex with a 19-year-old freshman after she passed out in their room in 1999. As Deadline reports, both men said the act was consensual and Parker was formally acquitted in 2001. Celestin was acquitted of the rape charge, but convicted of sexual assault. After an appeal, he was never re-tried.

"I never felt the need to introduce all the obstacles in my past when I say, 'Hello, my name is Nate.’ But at the same time, I’ve never hidden from it," Parker told Deadline. "It’s public record and in fact, this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about it on the record. Anytime anyone has asked me about this, I’ve been open. It’s tough reliving it, 17 years after the fact, but I never hid it from Fox."

Deadline isn't the first to report these charges, which have taken on a second life as The Birth of a Nation maintains buzz heading into awards season. Parker, Celestin, and the woman all say they had sex, but the woman says she was too intoxicated and not conscious enough to give consent. The female student also brought a civil suit against Penn State, alleging that Parker and Celestin continued to harass her after the criminal trial. Neither Parker nor Celestin commented specifically on this allegation to Deadline.

In an email to Deadline, Celestin echoed Parker's statements about the incident, writing, "this was something that I experienced as a college student 17 years ago and was fully exonerated of. I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career."

Fox Searchlight — which paid $17.5 million for rights to Parker's film — said in a statement to Deadline that the studio stands behind Parker. "Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen."

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