Never fail to heed the wisdom of Oprah. Director and star Nate Parker's new film about Nat Turner, The Birth of a Nation, is being overshadowed by the controversy surrounding a 1999 rape charge against him. In August, the allegations resurfaced, along with the news that his accuser committed suicide in 2012. Parker's subsequent comments on the issue and demeanor in media appearances have only hurt him. Over the past several weeks, he's defaulted to brushing off the accusations, pointing to his acquittal, and blaming the media. He has failed to express sincere empathy, apologize for anything, give a clear account of what happened, or send a clear message about sexual consent.
But Parker had a chance to get out in front of the story back in August, when the biggest name in media gave him some smart PR advice. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oprah Winfrey and her friend, CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King, saw the film in January this year — and loved it. Winfrey was apparently open to helping Parker when the scandal broke in August. Sources told THR that Winfrey advised Parker to tackle the issue in an interview with King on CBS, a suggestion he ignored. "He was angry that what he saw as a consensual, youthful sexual experimentation gone awry had become an issue years later despite his acquittal," THR writes, "and that it was happening just when his Nat Turner passion project was not only finished but positioned as a major Oscar contender."
Would things have turned out differently for Parker had he sat down with King and accepted Winfrey's support? Possibly. Crafting a strong, clear narrative to tell your side of the story early on is crucial to surviving PR scandals like these. But Parker has seemed unable to say any of the right things in interviews for the past two months; as THR reports, he has squandered those opportunities to rehab his image and ignored the advice of Fox Searchlight's PR experts. And it's unlikely King would've been able to make Parker say anything he didn't want to say, anyway. Sometimes, even Oprah can't help you.