‘Birth of a Nation’ Debuts to Standing Ovation at Toronto Despite Controversy

The Birth of a Nation Sundance
Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

The Birth of a Nation” received a standing ovation at its Friday night premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, despite ongoing controversy about the college rape trial of Nate Parker.

Initially viewed as an Oscar frontrunner after a record-breaking deal at the Sundance Film Festival, the film has seen its awards prospects threatened as the public has learned about accusations that Parker sexually assaulted an 18-year-old Penn State student while they were attending college together. He was later acquitted of the charges.

Jean Celestin, Parker’s roommate at the time and the co-writer of “The Birth of a Nation,” was found guilty. His conviction was later overturned on appeal, and the accuser committed suicide in 2012.

Related

Nate Parker Brings a Cloud of Controversy to Toronto Film Festival

Fox Searchlight, which acquired worldwide rights to the film for $17.5 million last spring, has sought to limit Parker’s exposure to the press. A party for the film at the Shangri-La Hotel shortly before the screening was closed to the media and a red carpet was mostly limited to photographers. Parker didn’t do interviews, but flashed a peace sign before entering the theater. Parker wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the drama about slave rebellion leader Nat Turner.

After the credits rolled, Parker mounted the stage flanked by the rest of the film’s cast. He clasped his hands together as the crowd applauded and exhaled. He began his remarks by thanking Fox Searchlight and the film’s financiers.

“I appreciate it more than you can possibly imagine,” he said.

A showing that may have been a source of anxiety for the studio went off without incident. There was no heckling during the screening and no signs of protests outside the Winter Garden Theatre, where the film showed. During a question and answer period, moderator and festival artistic director Cameron Bailey kept the focus on the production and Turner’s legacy.

Parker said that despite growing up 42 miles east of where Turner’s rebellion unfolded in Virginia, there were no monuments to the man who inspired his fellow slaves to take up arms in 1831 against their masters. After becoming an actor and learning about Turner, making a film about his life became a passion project for Parker.

“This is someone who should be celebrated along the lines of Patrick Henrys, of Jeffersons, of our founding fathers,” said Parker. “I felt like this was a story that I felt, historically speaking, could really promote the type of healing we need and the conversation around race.”

Although slave owners violently struck down Turner’s rebellion and attempted to wipe out his legacy, Parker said his role in history is secure and his life story continued to be told, passed down as part of a vibrant oral tradition.

“He solidified his legacy the moment that he raised the ax,” he said.

Other cast members, such as Roger Guenveur Smith, drew parallels between Turner’s story and modern political protests against racially charged police brutality. He noted that Turner was only one instance of rebellion in the history of the United States.

“Nat Turner was not an anomaly and was part of a tradition of resistance which began in the Western Hemisphere in the year 1492,” said Guenveur Smith. “What happened in Southampton County in 1831 was part of an ongoing movement of liberation which continues to this day. Nat Turner and his comrades recognized in 1831, a long time ago, that indeed, black lives do matter.”

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  1. Emmanuel Dark says:

    I’m very happy the public isn’t falling for this relentless ongoing smear campaign against Nate Parker. Mr. Parker was found not guilty within a court of law by an all-White jury. I don’t know what country, planet, and reality you people are residing in but historically any Black man accused of raping a White woman has been beaten to death, lynched and later received the harshest sentences often resulting in life sentences or even death penalty. Therefore, if an all-White jury found Mr. Parker not guilty i.e. innocent then that means there wasn’t the slightest evidence that could incriminate him. If y’all wanna talk about sexual-deviates in the movie industry then remind the public where Roman Polanski is and why he’s hiding in Europe.

    • Emmanuel Dark says:

      I meant…. any Black man accused of raping a White woman has been beaten to death, or lynched and in more recent times would receive the harshest sentences often resulting in life sentences or even death penalty.

      • Emmanuel Dark says:

        fanya395, if a Court of Law shouldn’t be the standard to determine guilt and innocence then what exactly are you suggesting? Because as I stated previously there’s no way an all-White jury is going to allow a Black man to get away with raping a White women. If there was the slightest evidence that Nate Parker was guilty then he would be sitting behind prison bars up until today.

      • fanya395 says:

        Just because you are found innocent, doesn’t mean you are. The reverse has been true for many. There was another man there,who declined “the offer.’ Read the transcript, and stop making excuses. Is this a black and white issue, and/or one that is gender based? Nate Parker is no victim, he knew right from wrong.

      • Emmanuel Dark says:

        Whodatninja, long story short you are throwing proverbial spaghetti against the walls to see what sticks but that doesn’t change the fact that Nate Parker proven his innocence in a Court of Law and has not had any criminal charges made against him since that incident during college. The other persons you mention can’t make a similar claim. just throwing out random names as expected of a suspect White supremacist to derail a discussion. George Zimmerman has shown he should of been convicted due to his lengthy criminal record that wasn’t admitted during his trial and the numerous criminal arrests and altercations he’s had after murdering Trayvon Martin. OJ Simpson was found innocent in a Court of Law largely due to the LAPD being caught red-handed tampering with crime scene evidence.

      • Whodatninja says:

        Zimmerman was found innocent. OJ Simpson was found innocent.

  2. Michael Anthony says:

    Of cpurse this was a “planned” audience. No chance they’d allow anyone on that might not applaud this “great moment”. But the studio, director and his PR team can’t control the public. And this film will not make the impact they want it to. Oscars? Sure, give them a ton and we’ll see Oscars relegated to the dustbin of history. Actors say anti-Jewish words and their banished. Rape, like Polanski, Allen and now this guy? They are celebrated. Sick sick sick.

    And the poster “Truth” who has posted acquitted about then times below? So was Gotti, Simpson, and countless others. Does that mean innocence? Not always. And after reading the full transcripts, in this case, I wouldn’t even dare say innocent.

  3. Guesty McGuesterson says:

    Even if the Academy gives this movie all the awards in the world, it’s not solving the real problem. The only way black artists can get Oscar recognition is with movies about slavery and racism.

  4. Ole says:

    Dumb Canadians.

  5. Alex Meyer says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how this does at the Oscars in light of all this.

    • Emmanuel Dark says:

      That’s one on the reasons for this fake-outrage and ongoing smear campaign against Mr. Parker to rationalize not nominating his film for any Oscars or even if they get nominated to have reasons to turn the Academy against him to vote for other nominated film productions. Oh lets not forget there also trying to sour the public perception to embarrass or outrage them enough that they will refuse to see the film…. in other word this is sabotage to try and make the film a flop by hook or crook.

  6. mackindal says:

    Where were all these comments when he was co starting in major films like The Great Debators and Red Tails? Where were they when he was getting funding? Where were they when he finished and was placing the film at Sundance. Where were they when it won? They were NO WHERE until right before the film debuted. I smell a false narrative. Its about stopping the film and using a woman’s suicide as the precursor for it. SHAME ON YOU. Fake outrage about Nate Parker given the number of times he was in the industry and his case was public record. Its just too darn coincidental his trial gets re-examined. Rape and sexual assault is too important to be misused by some of you. The film will be wildly successful and he and others will make similar type films. There is NOTHING you can do to stop powerful black films that don’t go with the “woe is me” slave narrative.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      They kept it hidden and the vast majority of people didn’t know what he was doing until press for “Birth” went wide. Go ahead and support the film, minimize rape and worst of all, accusing people of using suicide to further their interests.

      You deserve to enjoy the film. You’re just the type who has no clue, obviously because you’ve not been touched by tragedy. A sad excuse.

    • Lisa says:

      What I’m upset about is his spinning this story to get more attention At TIFF. In addition, victims have a right to say ‘Hey, he did this to me’.

      • Emmanuel Dark says:

        Nice try at trolling but Nate Parker isn’t the one that started talking about that old resolved court case. An organized smear campaign was launched weeks ago in August to try and undermine this brilliant independent film and now it’s backfiring; despite the heavy fake-outrage coming from various wannabe journalists writing hit-pieces to slander Mr. Parker. It’s turning around because the truth is being revealed despite the incessant propaganda against Mr. Parker and his film.

  7. Bryan says:

    So obvious what’s happening here, they’re desperate to ‘make amends’ for the last 2 years we’ll probably see ‘When the Bough Breaks’ getting an Oscar nomination.

  8. The Truth says:

    Acquitted.

  9. Lisa says:

    Who were these people who went to see the film? Who gave this person such an undeserving ovation – his family and friends? I guess it’s the people who are deluding themselves by proclaiming he was quitted and therefore innocent. Certainly it’s not rape victims who are saying this. Except his co-star who, for whatever reason, is going along with this.
    I’ve seen the comments on here, people still blame the victim. But the fact of the matter is, there are rapists still walking around, making movies, making millions when the victims have frozen in time, even That’s what rape does, it freezes you and keeps you prisoner in that moment for years to come. Prisoner of those few violent minutes where the perpetrator steals your power and your dignity. Then, the justice system shames you for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes you feel horribly down, you don’t want to do anything. This was one of those times for me. I should have been over at the festival taking meetings, going to talks, but I didn’t feel like it. I felt down and I didn’t know why, until when reading these articles that Variety insists on publishing, it dawned on me – it’s this rapist’s victory and it’s coverage and support by the media that is triggering my depressed feelings. What’s more is the silencing of victims. The fact nobody can ask him questions about what he’s done. Questions like ‘If your victim was here right now, what would you say to her? Would you make amends?’ This entire situation is so controlled – much like the control the perpetrators have over their victims. In war, rape is considered a weapon of war, an act of war – to abolish the enemy. In this case, the victim was a white woman. If Parker has an ongoing war against whites, as this film also substantiates, then he is not sorry as he claims to be.
    What bothers me most is what this is teaching young people. You can rape, get acquitted, then use that rape and suicide of the victim to spin your film at any festival that will let you 10 years later. To me, she and her family have been victimized so many times during this festival. I blame TIFF. I have lost respect for TIFF. It’s made a mistake it can’t undo.
    This is a punch in the stomach to every rape victim. But, we have to stay strong. We can’t let our assailants and their supporters get to us. We can’t get depressed and stop living our lives. Somehow, we need to dig deep within our souls to get even a bit of strength to keep going. We can’t let them victor over us.
    Perhaps, in 50 or 100 years our society will look back at this and say it was so barbaric. I hope so, for our granddaughter’s sakes.

  10. JimG says:

    Well of course they’re going to welcome him: if everything was known about everyone in the film community then they’d all be on an even playing field for the Oscars. How d’ya think Polanski won?

  11. nuggetmcnuggetseaters says:

    Boooooooooooooo

  12. Steve S. says:

    What’s disgusting is your lynch mob mentality. Why don’t we just hang him?

    None of us have any firsthand knowledge of what happened that night between the three of them, or their relationships at the time, but it was investigated by people who did.

    20% of all female college students experience sexual assault. That’s a lot of guys committing sexual assault. Many you probably know and are a part of your lives today. It’s a huge problem, that should be treated seriously, but stop scapegoating Nate Parker. The movie should be judged on it’s own merit regardless of what you assume did or did not happen. If you really care, go educate your kids.

    I suspect you would be a little more sympathetic if it was Ron Howard or Steven Spielberg.

    • Steve s has no clue says:

      The three of them? There were more than 3 people there who witnessed all or part. You have no clue.

    • Lisa says:

      …or Quentin Tarantino. ^^^ Well said.

      But forget it. The person below says “we know what happened” because he is basing what he thinks he knows from what was published on the internet. Not because the person was there. The internet allows people to get out their pitchforks from the comfort of their couches.

      • SheilaB says:

        The internet also has transcripts of the case. So maybe some people are basing their opinions on having read those documents.

    • me says:

      I’ve probably lived longer than you, but even if I haven’t I can tell you: we most certainly DO know what happened that night. That’s the problem.

      And as far as we know, Howard and Spielberg have never acted the same way. That’s the difference. And you also conveniently forget the backlash against Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.

    • Avenger07 says:

      Nah, this asshole isn’t getting off easy, screw your morality, sympathy B.S. I hope most Academy members will not vote for his movie.

      • jim says:

        Parker got off, his friend got convicted. Two men doing the same thing to the same girl, at the same time, but one got off? How is that right? It means he was lucky.

  13. Renee says:

    It’s good to hear that the actual film is good. We hear so much about the director’s past and the public’s judgement of his acquittal that the work that the cast put into the project has been overshadowed.

    For the sake of all the actors that put the heart and soul into the project, it is time we start to focus on this film for its historical and artistic merit.

    • Avenger07 says:

      Except that it isn’t, it’s just an OK movie being pushed by the whole Oscars so white controversy, despite the fact that the horrible allegations of rape should be more controversial and should had already buried this OK movie for good.

      • SheilaB says:

        Exactly. And outside of the film world, the Oscars So White “controversy” is a tempest in a teacup. Get over yourselves. There are actual horrors going on in the world right now that could benefit from the time, attention, resources, and media coverage allocated to this topic.

      • The Truth says:

        Acquitted.

  14. Johnny x says:

    Absolutely disgusting. Shame on you Toronto for applauding a gang rapist.

    • Emmanuel Dark says:

      The court transcript can be read and it clearly states the woman consented. This lie has been circulated within the media that Mr. Parker and his friends took her against her will. She had regrets after engaging with multiple partners due to someone talking about the forays and word spreading about her sexual activity and she cried rape to try and save face.

    • The Truth says:

      Acquitted.

  15. Chrissie says:

    There is no justice in this world if this man is paraded around the country to discuss this film which has a rape scene at the heart of it when he has as much as admitted he had sex with an unconscious woman. He also harassed her until she left school.. The night of the rape, he also encouraged his buddies to join him as one man who was there admitted, but he declined to participate and left. Nate got off because he had previous consensual sex with her before that night. His partner in the rape is a co-author of the screenplay. So, let’s not forget him as well. The movie may have merits as a work of art, but I can’t stomach the thought of watching it as a feminist, and a mother.

    • Emmanuel Dark says:

      Your willful ignorance of American History is laughable. Do you somehow belief that enslaved Black woman and girls consented to being sexually abused and raped by White slave owners? Also, the history books omit and over look the fact that enslaved Black boys and even enslaved Black men were sexually abused and raped as well as a form of psychological warfare and terrorism tactics. So Mr. Parker isn’t being dramatic nor out of place depicting the sexual violence that was used against enslaved Black people for various twisted-reasons.

      • Emmanuel Dark says:

        Chrissie to say the so-called Nate Parker (media-generated) scandal isn’t about race is very disingenuous. The outrage is directly related to the age-old fear of Black Men violating White Women and where does that fear come from? Because White Men have for centuries committed the most horrendous sexual abuse and rapes against Black bodies including women, children, and even men. Therefore there was always a subconscious fear that what was done White men would be committed by Black men as a far of revenge/retaliation but such events have never happened. However, that hasn’t stopped the fear of savage Black men attacking helpless White females and that’s the subtext playing out in minds of people. That’s why you believe Nate Parker is somehow guilty even though he’s been proven innocent within a court of a law by a particularly all-White jury. Because you subconsciously know that White men have done this to Black-Americans so why haven’t Black-Americans taken revenge? Well move past your paranoia and use logic and you see that Nate Parker is just a man whom is being slandered not because of a crime because no crime was committed but because he dares to show a narrative of enslaved Black people fighting against their oppressors.

      • Chrissie says:

        Ms. Dark,
        The sexual assault of an unconscious college co-ed by two men, one black and one white have nothing to do with the sexual assault of slaves. Both are horrible. It makes me sick what happened to women in both these cases, and men (both black and white) in recorded history. If you educate yourself about the trial transcripts which are available online, you can see why the white perpetuator was convicted, and Nate got off because he had a previous sexual history with the woman.

        This isn’t about race it is about sexual assault. I stand for victims of sexual assault of all races, creeds, and religions. I understand your passion and it sickens me too for what has been so horrible in our nation’s history. An African-American man testified that Nate invited him to participate in the assault of this unconscious woman, but he said no, and left because he felt it was wrong. This is about sexual assault not about race.

    • Lisa says:

      There is no justice for rape victims, you’re right. We live in a rape culture where rape is more common than we are led to believe. It is unreported since the victims are so shamed. Most women I’ve met have been sexually assaulted in some way – sometimes just walking down the street. In fact, I know a woman who was violated by a man who is now a practicing attorney! He’s not sorry for what he’s done.
      For Parker to add in an unnecessary rape scene is thumbing his nose at the victim and glorifying rape. He is still harassing her, even to her grave.

      Perhaps you can write more about the case since I doubt we’ll find the true story anywhere.

  16. Sylvia says:

    Disgraceful to see this rapist cheered by a crowd of boot-licking movie snobs. A pox on all of your houses. Parker & Celestin have blood on their hands.

  17. blonde says:

    Let’s give the rapist an academy award too. Good job.

    • Emmanuel Dark says:

      That’s funny he was found not guilty in a court of law by an all White jury. Last time I checked all White juries weren’t in the habit of allowing Nonwhite men especially Black-men to sexually violate any White women without any consequences so long story short Nate Parker is innocent. You can cut the fake-outrage bovine excrement save that for Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and even Brock Turner.

    • The Truth says:

      Acquitted.

  18. jim says:

    Wow, overlooking rape and the girls suicide because its a black film. Where are the feminists? where are the PC brigade?? Oh right, we have to make amends for the last 2 years when no black people won anything.

    Pathetic.

    • The Truth says:

      Where are those who acknowledge that Parker was acquitted?

    • Lisa says:

      Read my comments above, as a feminist and rape survivor.

      • Emmanuel Dark says:

        Roosevelt Pitt people like Lisa are too busy upholding the codes of White supremacy to use reason and common sense. Just like how they swear Bill Cosby is somehow guilty of raping 40+ women going back decades despite the fact there no evidence other than accusations but I digress. We know Nate Parker innocence was proven in a court of law by an all White jury but to these closet-racists just the accusation of rape is considered proof in itself of wrongdoing. They aren’t operating by logic but instead the same kind of racist paranoia depicted in the original “Birth of a Nation” by D. W. Griffith.

      • I say take your rage and redirected it towards a rapist who was proven guilty. Brock Turner who served virtually no jail time.

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