The American Film Institute has decided to cancel its screening of The Birth of a Nation, only one week after Nate Parker publicly addressed his 1999 rape allegations at various Hollywood press events.
The AFI screening, that was originally set for Friday (Aug. 26), would have been Parker’s first public appearance since the scandal was revived in the media. “I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” AFI dean, Jan Schuette said. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
Despite the new headlines, Parker’s 17-year-old rape case, which is also public knowledge on his Wikipedia page, has been no secret. In 1999, while attending Penn State University, Parker and his friend, Jean Celestin (who is also credited as a co- writer in the Nat Turner biopic), were charged with raping an 18-year-old woman, who claimed that she was unconscious at the time of the attack. Both men maintained that the sex was consensual. Parker was acquitted of all charges, while Celestin was found guilty of sexual assault. Celestin appealed the verdict, and it was later thrown out in 2005 after the witness failed to testify.
Following new questions regarding his past, news broke that his accuser had committed suicide in 2012. Parker shared a statement on Facebook, expressing his “devastation” about the matter. “Over the last several days, a part of my past — my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault — has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation,” Parker said. “I cannot- nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
In addition to the screening cancellation, Parker’s rape case may create some problems for the film as it makes a run for an Oscar nomination. Nevertheless, Fox will continue to hold a different screening of the feature film later this year as planned. Furthermore, the studio has confirmed that the film’s theatrical release and publicity tour will happen beginning Oct. 7, despite the negative headlines involving its leading star and director.