Nate Parker’s College Rape Trial Raises Questions for ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Release

Nate Parker
Michael Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Executives at Fox Searchlight are scrambling to deal with the aftermath of a series of interviews last week in which the star and director of “The Birth of A Nation,” Nate Parkeraddressed a rape trial from his past.

The specialty films division bet big on the indie at the Sundance Film Festival, shelling out a record-breaking $17.5 million for drama about the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner, hoping it would enter the zeitgeist at a time when racial issues are at the forefront of American politics.

But now, the studio is taking a wait and see approach to a proposed ambitious release plan that had called for extensive outreach to church groups, college campuses and prominent Hollywood figures. Parker not only stars in “The Birth of a Nation ” — he also wrote, directed and produced the film.

Fox Searchlight declined to comment on this article. In a statement on Friday, the studio said: “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.”

Despite the fact that Parker was acquitted of the rape charges in 2001, there are still concerns inside Fox Searchlight that the complicated issues raised by the case could overshadow a movie that was expected to be an Oscar front-runner. Parker’s co-writer on the film, Jean Celestin, was found guilty of sexually assaulting the same 18-year-old female, who claimed to be unconscious, after a night of drinking. Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never made it back to court after the woman decided not to testify again.


Nate Parker Sundance

‘The Birth of a Nation’ Star Nate Parker Addresses College Rape Trial

According to sources, studio executives at Searchlight are assessing the fallout from a fresh round of stories about the incident on prominent news sites and African-American-targeted sites. The studio held a meeting on Monday morning with Parker’s team, and they are considering not granting new interviews with Parker from now until the movie debuts at the Toronto Film Festival in September. The hope is that by addressing the case well in advance of the movie’s festival run and October 7 debut, Parker can put it behind him by the time audiences get to see the movie.

Searchlight is also still trying to determine what the impact of the 1999 Penn State case will have on Parker as the face of the “The Birth of the Nation.” Part of the sales agreement for the film called for the label to support a roadshow that would have sent Parker around the country, to churches and college campuses, discussing issues of social justice. But each public appearance runs the risk of journalists or audience members reviving details of the court case and raising difficult questions.

A rival distribution executive said that Searchlight would need to give Parker better media training: “That means coaching him carefully. If he responds badly to a question, everything gets worse.” The distribution executive also wondered if the charges could upset enough potential Oscar voters to derail the film’s hopes for Academy Awards attention.

Searchlight had devised an aggressive strategy for getting word out about the movie. The distributor was going to rely on prominent African-American filmmakers to talk up the importance of Parker at a time when the industry is grappling with ways to promote more diverse voices.

Parker, a devout Christian, was also going to directly sell the story of Nat Turner — himself a preacher — to churches and religious groups. He’d already given one of his first major post-Sundance interviews this month to Christianity Today. But questions about Parker’s past could also dissuade religious audiences from buying tickets to see “The Birth of A Nation.”

If Searchlight wants to make a profit on the film, it’s critical that “The Birth of a Nation” expand its audience beyond art house crowds. Rival executives estimate that for a film of this nature to be profitable, the studio will need to make $50 million during its domestic run. As part of the terms of the Sundance deal, Searchlight agreed to show “The Birth of a Nation” on 1,500 screens, which makes the movie a major release for the boutique label, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.

Following a rapturous debut at the Eccles Theatre in Sundance, bidding on the film heated up before the end credits had even rolled. Several distributors, among them Paramount, Sony, Netflix, The Weinstein Co. and Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios, rushed to make their pitch directly to Parker and his producers. One source told Variety that the scramble to cook up slides to outline the details of their release strategy left them with little time to do any kind of research on Parker’s past. That meant that some of the bidders had no idea he was involved in a criminal trial in college.

Another source added that executives at Searchlight weren’t aware of the allegations at the time that they offered $17.5 million for the film, and only learned about the trial when reports about it started to trickle out on smaller blogs.  By then, the ink had already dried on the deal. It did, however, give Searchlight months to figure out possible ways to address the issue when it inevitably became public.

In 1999, Parker, a student and wrestler at Penn State, and Celestin were charged with raping a female classmate in their apartment after a night of drinking. The woman claimed she was unconscious at the time, while Parker and Celestin maintained that the encounter was consensual. Both men were suspended from the wrestling team, and Parker later transferred to a different college in Oklahoma.

Parker and the victim had an earlier sexual encounter that both said was consensual, a detail that was emphasized by his legal team in court. The victim said she was harassed by the men after she reported the incident to police. She dropped out of college, and settled with Penn State for $17,500 in a separate legal action.

In its initial posters and trailers, Fox Searchlight seemed eager to give “The Birth of a Nation” a politically charged campaign. The first poster featured Parker as Turner with a noose fashioned out of an American flag around his neck. “The tone in their marketing has been provocative and even a little angry,” said a rival studio executive. “The poster image is incredibly bold, but in this context, it changes the cadence of the campaign. That tone is going to be harder to maintain.”

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  1. Katrice Leidinger says:

    This is a coincidence I think not they are trying to draw attention away from the movie and its history which all African Americans need to go see and support don’t let the media distract you so this film doesn’t get its acknowledgement. They are telling people its sold out and they buy tickets for another movie that will earn box office revenue. Sucks they don’t want us to have anything or know our history but we are supposed to be free in this country gtfoh!

  2. Sandra Hazen says:

    I will not see a movie made by a rapist. Also, I was told that the film includes a rape scene that is not historically accurate. Something Turner added for fun? It’s time to draw a line for women’s rights and not support sexual violence.

    He’s a phony – he’s against racial violence but not violence against women?

  3. Sharon Mason black women says:

    Why?why “, can’t we see a movie about our history, without the disruption of the focus…not that rape is not important, they didnot cause the death.. I know that if he was with a black women it may or may not came to light…..should have brought it up before the sale of the movie….

  4. JC says:

    The fact that the co-writer got off on a technicality, LITERALLY the victim could not stand to face trial again, shows his true guilt. Fox should just cut the losses and never release this.

  5. MissKitty says:

    What’s even more creepy is the co-writer Celestin (the one convicted of actually raping the girl) and Parker wrote a rape scene into the script, when there was not a rape of Nat Turner’s wife in real life. Why? It’s just something “off” about that. They wanted a rape scene to write, act out and film.

  6. A white southern ship captain from Virginian told me about Nat Turner back in the 1970’s. He said he was taught that Nat Turner was serial rapist Later he said he found out that was not true, and that Nat Turner was a freedom fighter.

  7. Many a proud parent has sent there child off to college without any discussion about sex, alcohol, and drugs. Every year hear about rape accusations on college campuses, often heavy drinking is involved,
    Memories are often fogged. Some of the allegations are some are not true. Anyone reading this remember their college days? I remember guys going out with the purpose of getting drunk.
    “S**tfaced they called it. They come back drunk throw up and do the same thing again the next weekend. Women would boast about how drunk they got.

  8. Grand Mal says:

    Just on a technical note, and I could be wrong, but I didn’t think a court could find someone ‘innocent.’ Perhaps Fox Searchlight misspoke.

  9. Holly says:

    She accused him so it must be true. You’re ready crucify a black man who was innocent, while a white man found guilty gets a passing glance, a mere mention, the benefit of the doubt. Never will you be satisfied. You fellas better start wearing body cameras.

    • in the know says:

      Yes, indeed, because if you read court documents, a body cam would have helped her. Go back to your BLM attacks, al sharpton and tawana need you.

  10. James says:

    He did nothing.

    • ny er says:

      He did nothing, except destroy a life.

      • blm sux says:

        Below, no he wasnt found innocent. You cannot be found innocent. You are really ignorant.

      • Victor says:

        Why wasn’t he found guilty and locked up then ? There isn’t any shortage of black men being sent to prison for 20, 30, 40 years and even life on b.s charges. It’s always been in en vogue. In fact its the very thing the criminal justice system was designed for, rail road them and lock’em up. BUT, after it was all said and done, he was found INNOCENT. And you can’t accept it. And he MADE IT. Now he made a film to counter the glorified racist D.W Griffith Birth of Nation, and suddenly a firestorm erupts. You don’t have me fooled.

  11. carly says:

    How dare he pose as some sort of moral authority and make a film about being victimised without owning up to his role as a victimiser and abuser. He gang raped a girl and then harassed her, who then years later suffering from ptsd committed suicide. He also continues to work with the other gang rapist ON THIS MOVIE -who was indeed found guilty and then later acquitted after appeal because the victim was too traumatised to testify for a second time. Who the hell does he think he is to preach to anyone about facing your past when he’s not willing to take responsibility for his. It’s sick that Fox supported this hypocrite. The story behind ‘birth of a nation’ should be told, but not by this sick rapist who is still not facing up to his own past.

    • JC says:

      “Parker’s co-writer on the film, Jean Celestin, was found guilty of sexually assaulting the same 18-year-old female, who claimed to be unconscious, after a night of drinking. Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never made it back to court after the woman decided not to testify again.” GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY VICTIM COULD NOT GO THROUGH IT AGAIN…

  12. billb9000 says:

    A devout Christian that thinks it’s ok to gang rape a blackout drunk girl? Hypocritical scum. Sex with a passed out drunk girl is never consensual and he needs to apologize now. He destroyed her life and that of her family and I for one will never support him or the studios behind him. Disgusting.

  13. Interesting the University settled the civil suit re. the continued harassment of the plaintiff. Penn State has a history of failing to protect students in this manner. Address that Mr. Director. Did you and your room mate harass this women after she brought charges?

  14. Tupper says:

    Good bye Religious audiences. Good bye Academy Awards. Good bye career for Mr Parker.
    Fox Searchlight will pull this title or it becomes specialty release at best.

    Without the career of a Woody Allen or Roman Polansky behind him, Mr Parker will find none of the same sympathy.

    Hollywood scrambled for this title in the name of diversity. They will dump it even quicker in the name of women’s rights.

  15. Donn Johnson says:

    I only have 1 question. .Y would, IF it happened & I’m sure it did regardless of what the judge/ jury said, Y Would/ do men want to B with a person their friends/ roommate was just with? ? THAT, 2 me, SHOWS it was Rape,like “whos next? “..PERSONALLY, I’ve NEVER done that NOR would i want my friend ‘seconds’ I’ve ALWAYS been able to get my own ON my own. . And if not, i got 2 hands that work perfectly W/O needing to get with my friends/ roommates people.

  16. Nick says:

    The double standard in the U.S is just INCREDIBLE. This man was TRIED and ACQUITTED. Let me say that again. ACQUITTED OF ALL CHARGES. Found innocent by 12 jurors. But suddenly just the mere fact he was accused is spreading like wild fire knowing well and good he was found not guilty. In contrast you have a privileged while males like Brock Turner who was found guilty as charged getting 6 months, probably 3 months with good behavior. Another privileged while male in the Affluenza case found guilty as charged of killing 4 people, and rendering the 5th permanently disabled getting PROBATION. But just because Nate Parker was accused you people won’t rest till he’s lynched like he should be right ? Like they used to do in the 60s ? You make me sick and I am just sick and tired of white folks being treated like little angels, while black are folks getting are murdered, oppressed, and robbed of opportunity. And women who can end a human life and destroy a man’s reputation for life in one fell swoop. And at the end of the day deep inside you don’t really want to admit the possibility that this young lady was what she was. A loose woman.

    • ny er says:

      Your comment should be deleted. It is disgusting, and the attitude behind his ‘exoneration’ and your words are what killed her.

      • JC says:

        “Parker’s co-writer on the film, Jean Celestin, was found guilty of sexually assaulting the same 18-year-old female, who claimed to be unconscious, after a night of drinking. Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never made it back to court after the woman decided not to testify again.”

      • blm sux says:

        Below, he was accused, see daily mail article…same year even…

      • Parker was acquitted of the rape charges in 2001. The allegations were made in 1999.

        “Parker and the victim had an earlier sexual encounter that both said was consensual, a detail that was emphasized by his legal team in court.”

        He helped her move in the dorm and she gave him oral sex.

        Two my knowledge no other woman has accused Parker of rape or sexual harassment since.

      • Victor says:

        You and your ilk are the one’s who are disgusting. Because that there is the cold hard truth. Black man found innocent, you can’t take it, so you go ahead and use just the fact he was accused to try to ruin him. You’re pathetic.

  17. Ashley Jonson says:

    As a black woman, there’s no way in Hell I will spend one dime to support this guy or his film. What a disgusting human being he is.

  18. Zeke says:

    This film should never see the light of day. In the context of this film’s story how will anyone be able to ignore that key figures gang raped a white woman who later committed suicide?

  19. JD says:

    Does Alex Jones or Brietbart pay people to troll websites and make inane comments? I expect more from Variety.

  20. New Yorker says:

    I do not know what the standard for rape in PA is, but how do you believe the perp who says she wanted him, while disbelieving her saying I was violated, by not one but two athletes who could overpower her? With this piece of scum nate, there would have been more perps. God bless her for speaking out. That interview with him showed how self centered he is still. Nothing learned i guess. We certainly grew up knowing about Nate Turner, how did this guy not? In any event, glad to see people are not fooled, for the most part.

  21. John Johnson says:

    He and his pal are rapists, plain and simple! I’d NEVER pay money to knowingly watch a rapist!!! But I’m sure libs who proclaim to be strong supporters of women’s rights will cry racism!

  22. Katelyn Cox says:

    A black democrat rapist making a movie about the KKK — which was founded by Democrats to stop black rapists.

    • Becca says:

      It’s not a movie about the KKK. It’s about Nat Turner. Do keep up. Also, the KKK wasn’t founded on “stopping black rapists”. It was founded to terrorize ALL black people living in the South. Men, women AND children, as well as attempt to force them to return to slavery once Union soldiers left the South after Reconstruction ended.

  23. toastenbutter says:

    “Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications especially if the comment differs from the personal point of view of Variety” and remember…OJ was acquitted too therefore must be innocent!

  24. Keith Diggs says:

    He was exonerated of all charges SO HOW THE FOK IS IT A SCANDAL????

    • Bridget says:

      Because he was charged in the first place. Suspended from his team because of the charges and STILL had to leave school after. That’s why. All people that are found innocent by a court of law aren’t. Ask OJ

  25. *you’re

    Typical. Example: you’re sub-literate and you also blew the comma there.

  26. I don’t get this. So now being accused and acquitted of rape makes you a rapist?

    • mkelemen says:

      “subsequent harassment”

    • nathandial says:

      He had sex with her and does not deny it. She said it was rape. He said it was consensual. Because the two witnesses’ testimonies conflicted, there’s not enough evidence to convict (because conviction has a higher burden of proof) but 100% of witnesses other than him, said it was rape.

      I can agree based on the evidence I am aware of, that it was probably the correct verdict not to put him in prison on the accusal of a single person, but I don’t am not going to judge anybody who looks at the evidence and still thinks he did it.

      It comes down to whether you trust the woman who killed herself, or the actor.

      • women matter says:

        They did not have sex…go read the other posts re this, and documents…

      • in the know says:

        Disgusting. Single person? Sharia anyone? He should be in prison, now you need a witness to rape? He told her to stay with him, she was too drunk to go to dorm. But not too drunk for him to rape. He just hoped she was total blackout

  27. carac100 says:

    So now we’re going to be lectured about morality by gang rapists? Typical for Hollywood, where narcissists and sociopaths use their movies not to entertain, inspire, and uplift, but to try to force their demented anti-liberty leftist agenda on the good people of America.

  28. I see a nation of people who grew up in the same inner city slum I did. 85% had kids out of wedlock, the majority of whom do drugs and don’t work. Stop whining, start working. Get right with God if that’s what it takes. But stop blaming everyone but yourselves, it just makes me ill to be a witness.

  29. Joe Tonelli says:

    EVERY black person who lives in the US should be ECSTATIC that their ancestors made it to America. If not they would have been born in AFRICA. Do any of them want to go there?
    To you black people BE HAPPY YOU WERE BORN HERE!!!!!!

    • Sergio says:

      Racism and jingoism are two branches of the same tree. Please crawl back under the rock that you crawled out from.

  30. hanginout says:

    Any company that makes a biz decision based on “social justice” deserves what comes their way. Right about now they are prolly longing for the good old days when entertainment execs checked folks out before partnering with them…

  31. Mit Roop says:

    Why doesn Nate play the race card? Seems to work for every other wrong perpetuated on other blacks…get this whole rape talk behind him.

  32. Deion Pinder says:

    I got the solution: Fox Searchlight can produce a new movie about the Pilgrims called “Roots”, directed by Roman Polanski.

  33. Jimi Clif says:

    Having a real rape under your belt for this kind of movie is what would be called “portfolio.” Makes the film feel real. Otherwise people are looking at Lost in Space or Lassie Come Home. I jest. This used to be America where only communists and Nazis and Negros were banned. Now they are the only ones with “authentic views.” I am sarcastic. Film is rarely worth going to see anymore. History has always been treated with poetic freedom in film but now it is treated with rapist freedom.

  34. Another “slavery was bad” movie? On the heels of Lincoln, 12 years a Slave, Selma, Free State of Jones, and with Queen of Katwe on the horizon, the audiences are growing tired of being preached at about the sins of the past. Add the inane Southside With You propaganda piece trying to rehabilitate Obama’s image as he leaves office under a cloud and the public are already grumbling about the partisan politics being engaged in by movie makers today. The same dynamic was at work a couple years back when we were flooded with anti war pieces to the point that Syriana ended up falling on it’s face because even the true believers said “Enough already!” I am seeing the beginnings of the same phenomenon here. People do not like to be beaten over the head over any specific topic, especially one as emotionally charged as this one is currently, regardless of how well it’s done. I don’t see this effort succeeding as greatly as it’s producers and distributors are hoping because of that phenomenon.

  35. PSU alum says:

    Thank u to all who are in essence supporting the woman. If you read her testimony, it is clear he knew how drunk she was, and used her badly. She never should have had so much to drink, but he sought to molest her clearly. I am an alum of Penn State, it isn’t liberal. I was horrified at this story, finally seeing it the orher day. He should have been convicted. Sick guy, and his ‘pal.’ The other guy should have called the police. Women should be careful of men, and alcohol. This is no different from the story of the football player who saved the unconscious woman in an alley in Florida, i think. She just agreed to go to jerk’s apartment.

  36. Bill M. says:

    Ultimately, it won’t matter. The movie will go on to sweep the Oscars, and Hollywood will wallow in an another orgy of self-congratulation and virtue-signalling.

  37. Huwyte Mail says:

    So much real talk in these comments.
    I see them being closed before an epic wave of bad feelz washes over LA.

  38. OK this poses quite the issue for blacks, liberals, feminist.
    First you have a somewhat controversial movie, made about a black man standing up to the WHITE man, The movie is made by a black man. Liberals will love it.

    But the black man who made the movie may or may not have sexually assaulted a passed out woman, The feminist will hate the guy who made the movie (but of course their liberal side will be conflicted, because he is black).

    Next group will be blacks, who will love the movie for both content and the fact that is was made by a black man. However they will be resentful that a WHITE man who admittedly sexually assaulted several women is twice elected as president and is beloved by blacks, liberals and feminist, while the black movie maker (who was found not guilty of his crime of sexual assault) is having problems just releasing a movie (aka: just trying to get a job/make money).

    The story has irony and double standard written all over it, Shakespeare would have loved to write this story

  39. If this movie were a remake of the original, racist, Cecil B. DeMills “Birth of A Nation”, it would portray the major black actor as a rapist, but this version, which has nothing to do with the original plot has an actor/director and cowriter that actually ARE rapists? How avant garde!

  40. Penn State? Mmmm……

  41. Nigel says:

    I doubt it’s better than the original anyway.

  42. These corporations use money generated by the successful movies to prop up junk like this. They probably think it is a sure Academy Award winner just for political correctness. The best way to treat the Hollywood bosses (you know who) is to not spend a dime in movie theaters.

  43. A “devout Christian” writes a story glorifying a deranged fanatic who butchered 17 children sleeping in their beds along with their mothers?. This was no organized rebellion, this was him and another friend out to murder in cold blood mostly helpless women and children out of vengeance. Nothing Christian about it. Do your research people…
    Why not a film about the bravery of Harriet Tubman, who organized an entire underground movement of people across states and risked her life numerous times to help others? Or Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became a tireless orator and helped to bring about the end of slavery? No let’s keep fanning the flames of senseless racial violence.

    • JMStettner says:

      Thank you, Isabella, for injecting a dose of reality into the hollywood “re-envisioning” of history. Far too many TV shows and movies now are presenting complete fictions under the guise of historical events. What is most egregious with this particular trash-film is the “white-washing” (pun intended) of a vicious, callous, murderous thug.

      • Kim says:

        This “film” is about a guy and his friend who do heinous acts made by a guy and his friend who committed a heinous act. Please don’t support this scum.

    • Tim says:

      They don’t because Tubman and Douglass were Republicans.

  44. Jimbo23 says:

    This movie is toast. White people won’t see it because they will be afraid of the violence that will occur at the theater if any blacks attend it.

  45. Jimmy not that jimmy says:

    Another stereotype reinforcing itself. I hate when that happens.

  46. Fungirl91 says:

    Some of these comments are so hateful.
    Hollywood, these hater’s are not moviegoers, they’re thugs in white sheets. We see all the movies you’re making exclusively for people in rural areas. Those movies aren’t making any money according to entertainment critics.
    So, as Hollywood bleach out people of color. I will not support their endeavors.

    • Ed says:

      “We see all the movies you’re making exclusively for people in rural areas” ROTFLMAO!!!
      Which movies would that be? SUPERMAN or GHOSTBUSTERS?
      You are so brainwashed it’s ridiculous.
      But I will agree with you that I refuse to support the elitists in Hollywood.

    • Kitcha says:

      Some of these comments are so stupid.

      Hollywoood, needs to listen. The people commenting here are moviegoers and put the dollars in your pocket. We see all the violent movies, and music you make to try and pull in those same type of people who are your target audience. These movies aren’t making any money, cuz those folks don’t go to movies.

    • It’s your privilege to spend your money anyway you wish. It is part of your 1A right of free speech. The comments you call hateful are 1A speech too.

      • Michael Grey says:

        Nat Turner was a rapist and murderer yet hailed as hero to blacks. Now this movie will idolize him and picture him as a martyr.

  47. Fungirl91 says:

    Well, another actor being dragged through the mud. You can always tell when someone as made it, the critics come out to attack you. Nate Parker has been acting for years, but now the abyss has open up. This historic movie he has directed will shed light on the subject of slavery from a black prospective. He was acquitted, which means FOUND NOT GUILTY.

    • Sexracist says:

      Please explain how two men having sex with an UNCONCIOUS woman is okay, regardless of a legal verdict.

    • Nittany Lie Ons are the Best says:

      No “acquit” he was dound NOT GUILTY which means “he may have done it. He actually admits to doing it. But we can’t prove he met the standards of the law.”

      Since I am an alumnus of that university and am not a prison guard, prosecutor, or cop, I am free to think of him any way I damned well please. Since he admits gangbanging a White girl with his depraved BFF, it is my opinion he should be hanged by the neck until dead.


  48. Paul Smith says:

    Trashcan the movie…it’s a piece of crap.

  49. John Lee Pettimore says:

    Welcome to equality.

  50. Bill says:

    The SJW’s must be in total brain freeze about the film “bad white people” and the black filmmakers (rapists). I love it

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