Nate Parker Apologizes for 'Insensitive' Response to Rape Case Controversy: 'I Was Thinking About Myself'
By Jennifer Drysdale
Nate Parker admits he's "still learning."
Following recent controversy surrounding his 1999 rape case and the subsequent interviews he's given to Variety and Deadline, the 36-year-old writer, director, and actor sat down for an exclusive interview with Ebonymagazine, where he got candid about rape culture and what advice he would give to his 19-year-old self if he could go back in time.
Parker, now 36, was acquitted in a 2001 trial after an 18-year-old female classmate at Pennsylvania State University accused Parker and then-roommate Jean Celestin (who also co-wrote Birth of a Nation with Parker) of sexual assault. Celestin was initially found guilty, but his conviction was later overturned on an appeal.
"I gotta be able to look at it and say, well, you know, I have engaged in hyper-male culture," he told Ebony about the decade-old case that is now making headlines. "And I'm learning about it, and I'm learning how I can change and help young boys and young men change."
The Birth of a Nation star, who faced criticism after trying to address the case head-on in interviews with Deadline and Variety earlier this month, says he now knows that his previous statements reflected a lack of awareness. Parker even calls his comments "insensitive" and "nonchalant."
"I called a couple of sisters that [I] know that are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions," he said. "What did I do wrong? Because I was thinking about myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. I didn't think about her then, and I didn't think about her when I was saying those statements, which as wrong and insensitive."
"I was acting as if I was the victim," he added. "And that's wrong. I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was that I'm innocent and everyone needs to know. I didn't even think for a second about her, not even for a second."
Parker's candidness about his lack of concern for the woman involved in his case -- who committed suicide in 2012 -- led to a conversation about consent, and his understanding of the word back when he was a student at Penn State. Parker revealed at age 19, he didn't know "very much" about the concept.
"Put it this way, when you're 19, a threesome is normal. It's fun. When you're 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about -- for me, back then -- if you can get a girl to say yes, you win," he said, revealing that his idea of consent in college was all about gauging whether or not a woman was "down," rather than actually asking her.
"Asking that question outright when I was younger? No," he simply stated.
"At 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn't say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like, 'How far can I go?" Parker elaborated. "It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent," he said, explaining that he's now "learning" how to interpret body language.
"I'm 36-years-old and I'm learning about definitions that I should have known when I started having sex," he confessed, adding that he's trying to be open about consent with his daughter, who just went off to college.
"I have talked to her about it all," he shared. "I mean, there's a 1999 lens and then there's a 2016 lens, and I think there's a hyper-sensitivity -- as there should be -- to what's happening around campuses."
The director concluded his comments to Ebony with an apology, stating that he has "a lot of work to do within myself."
"All I can do is seek information that'll make me stronger, that'll help me overcome my toxic masculinity, my male privilege, because that's something you never think about. You don't think about the other people," he said. "I recognize as a man there's a lot of things that I don't have to think about. But I'm thinking about them now."