UPDATED: Fox Searchlight has been trying to bring a business-as-usual approach to the promotion and release of “The Birth of a Nation” — the film that has been embroiled in controversy since the revelation that its director and star, Nate Parker, was accused of rape when he was a student at Penn State University.
That stance gets harder every day for the film’s distributor and auteur, as more voices condemn Parker and suggest they will boycott the film. Late Tuesday, word came that AFI was postponing a screening of the historic account of the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in the 1830s. On Wednesday, the film took another hit when the Toronto International Film Festival’s schedule revealed that “The Birth of a Nation” will not be the subject of one of the nine official TIFF press conferences.
Fox Searchlight did not respond to a request for comment. But in an email to Deadline, Fox Searchlight marketing boss Michelle Hooper suggested that the lack of an official press conference was not a defeat for the film, which was the most acclaimed film coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it drew a record bid of more than $17 million.
“Rarely do we do press conferences at TIFF for films that are not a world premiere,” Hooper told the entertainment website. “Last year, for example, we did not do a PC for Brooklyn because it was a Sundance premiere/acquisition; the only film we actually did one for last year was Demolition, and that’s because it was their Opening Night Film (and world premiere). Nate is attending and there are Q&As with cast and filmmakers after most screenings during the festival including its TIFF premiere.”
The night prior, AFI confirmed it had cancelled this Friday’s screening of the film, which was supposed to be followed by a Q & A with Parker. The school’s dean said the film school would hold a session on campus to air the many issues raised by the film and by the rape allegation against Parker and Celestin. He suggested that AFI might air the film at a later date, though he did not say when that might occur.
Parker and Celestin were both members of the Penn State wrestling team in 1999 when a fellow student, 18, said the two men both raped her when she was drunk and unconscious. Parker, who had a previous consensual encounter with the woman, was acquitted. But Celestin was convicted and only went free after he won an appeal and his fellow student decided she did not want to testify at another trial.
While some have argued that the lack of conviction should remove any cloud over the two men, others have said that the lack of a criminal conviction does not eliminate their culpability. Online forums have been filled with talk about a boycott of the film. No group has stepped forward to lead such an effort.