NEWS

Nate Parker Addresses 1999 Rape Case in Emotional Facebook Post: 'I Am Filled With Profound Sorrow'

by Zach Seemayer 8:14 PM PDT, August 17, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

As Nate Parker's groundbreaking historical drama, The Birth of a Nation, has been rapidly gaining Oscar buzz in recent months, the filmmaker has been confronted once again by a rape allegations leveled against him back in 1999, and Parker is facing the controversy head on.

"These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being. I write to you all devastated," Parker wrote in a statement shared to his Facebook on Tuesday.

"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. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions," Parker continued. "These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved."

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In 1999, Parker and his Penn State roommate, Jean Celestin -- who also co-wrote The Birth of a Nation with Parker -- were charged with raping an 18-year-old fellow student in their apartment. The woman claimed that she was unconscious, while Parker and Celestin argued that the sexual encounter was consensual.

Parker was acquitted by a jury in 2001, while Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The verdict was appealed and a new trial was granted in 2005, however the woman declined to testify again and the case never made it back to court.

The woman's brother recently revealed, in an interview with Variety, that his sister took her own life in 2012, at the age of 30.

In his Facebook message, Parker said that he just learned about the woman's suicide, and that he is "filled with profound sorrow" over her death.

"I cannot- nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial," Parker wrote. "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."

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"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," he continued. "I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in."

Parker went on to admit that he "cannot change what has happened," no matter how much he himself has changed and "matured" in the years since the trial, adding, "I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life."

"I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability," the message read. "All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal."

Parker ended his statement with a promise that he will not turn away from addressing the accusations and controversy surrounding him.

"I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment," Parker concluded.

The woman's brother, who asked to be referred to only as Johnny to retain his sister's desire for anonymity, told Variety that she "became detached from reality," in the years leading up to her suicide.

"I think by today’s legal standards, a lot has changed with regards to universities and the laws in sexual assault," Johnny said, arguing that he believes the outcome of the trial would be different if it were held today. "I feel certain if this were to happen in 2016, the outcome would be different than it was. Courts are a lot stricter about this kind of thing."

Fox Searchlight, the studio that picked up The Birth of a Nation for a record-breaking $17.5 million earlier this year, released a statement last week defending Parker and their partnership with him.

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"Fox 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."

The 36-year-old filmmaker wrote, directed, produced and stared in the critically-acclaimed drama, The Birth of a Nation, which follows Nat Turner's famous slave rebellion in 1831.

The film received rave reviews in its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it took home the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Drama, as well as the Audience Award.

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