Actress Gabrielle Union, who has been open about her past sexual assault, is finally addressing the rape allegations surrounding her Birth of a Nation co-star, Nate Parker.
"Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working. Two years ago I signed on to a brilliant script called The Birth of a Nation, to play a woman who was raped," the 43-year-old actress wrote in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on Friday. "One month ago I was sent a story about Nate Parker, the very talented writer, director and star of this film. Seventeen years ago Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of sexual assault. Four years ago the woman who accused him committed suicide."
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"As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly," she continued. "Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion. I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor."
Union, who portrays a victim of sexual assault in the movie, signed onto The Birth of a Nation before reports regarding Parker’s sexual assault trial resurfaced.
"My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control," she explained. "It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform. When I am scared. Confused. Ashamed. I remember this part of myself and must reach out to anyone who will listen — other survivors, or even potential perpetrators."
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.
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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.
"On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It's very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said 'no,' silence certainly does not equal 'yes,'" Union continued. "Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a 'no' as a 'yes' is problematic at least, criminal at worst. That's why education on this issue is so vital."
Union, who celebrated her second wedding anniversary with Dwyane Wade on Wednesday, says she’s come to terms with not knowing the truth surrounding Parker's alleged crime, but believes that The Birth of a Nation should be released to the public.
"Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don't actually know. Nor does anyone who was not in that room," she wrote. "But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize… I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary."
The Birth of a Nation will open in theaters on Oct. 7.