UPDATED: “Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker has penned a lengthy response to new details regarding an incident in which a woman accused him of rape while they were both students at Penn State, writing that he’s “filled with profound sorrow” over learning that the accuser killed herself in 2012.
The details of the 2001 trial, in which Parker was acquitted, resurfaced last week, when the director spoke to Variety and Deadline about the ordeal. The accuser’s brother, Johnny, spoke to Variety this week, opening up about the incident and revealing that his sister committed suicide and overdosed on sleeping pills.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday evening, Parker expressed shock at the news, writing that he is “devastated.” “Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation,” he wrote. “I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions. These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved.”
When speaking to Variety last week, Parker described it as “a very painful moment in my life,” and said, “I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.” Parker was acquitted of the charges, but his college roommate and “Birth of a Nation” co-writer, Jean Celestin, was found guilty. Celestin later won his appeal.
In the trial, the accuser, 18 at the time, said she suffered harassment after the alleged rape, and she dropped out of college. She was 30 when she died in 2012.
The accuser’s death certificate said she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse….” Her brother said the “trial was pretty tough for her,” and said even after dropping out of school, he thought “the ghosts continued to haunt her.”
Later on Tuesday, the woman’s family issued a statement to the New York Times: “We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.”
The woman’s sister, Sharon Loeffler, also issued a statement of her own that did not echo her family’s sentiments. “I know what she would’ve said, and that would be, ‘I fought long and hard, it overcame me. All I can ask is any other victims to come forward, and not let this kind of tolerance to go on anymore,'” she said.
“These guys sucked the soul and life out of her,” she added.
See Parker’s full post below.
These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being.
I write to you all devastated…
Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions. These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved.
I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family.
I cannot- nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.
I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in.
I cannot change what has happened. I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life…
I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability.
All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.
I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment.