Nate Parker Talks Rape Controversy With Ebony: ‘The Definitions of So Many Things Have Changed’

Nate Parker Breaks Silence Over Rape
Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock

Nate Parker broke his silence on Saturday over two weeks after Variety and Deadline published interviews in which he addressed being charged — along with his “Birth of a Nation” co-writer Jean Celestin — with raping a 18-year-old female student while attending Penn State in 1999.

In the new interview, published by Ebony, Parker says that his original comments came from a “standpoint of ignorance.” He also said that he did not know at the time that the woman who accused him of rape had died by committing suicide in 2012.

“I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong,” he said. “I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was I’m innocent and everyone needs to know. I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second.”

The interviewer had commented earlier that Parker could have avoided so much backlash had he seemed “more contrite from the jump” and less “self-focused.”

To which Parker responded, “You asked me why I wasn’t empathetic? Why didn’t it come off more empathetic? Because I wasn’t being empathetic. Why didn’t it come off more contrite? Because I wasn’t being contrite. Maybe I was being even arrogant. And learning about her passing shook me, it really did. It really shook me.”

When asked if he had thought about the incident at any point over the last 17 years, Park said, “No, I had not. I hadn’t thought about it at all.”

The interview focused on the definition of consent, and how Parker was raised to think about sex and women.

“It wasn’t a conversation people were having,” he said. “When I think about 1999, I think about being a 19-year-old kid, and I think about my attitude and behavior just toward women with respect objectifying them. I never thought about consent as a definition, especially as I do now. I think the definitions of so many things have changed.”

He also said, “I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it.”

He consulted with feminists and asked questions, he said. “I called a couple of sisters that know that are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions. 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 was wrong and insensitive.”

Parker also addressed the fact that it took him over two weeks to speak out following the initial interview, with the exception of a statement he posted on Facebook on Aug. 16.

“People may say that, ‘Oh, now is good timing.’ I don’t know what to say to them except I’m trying,” Parker said. “I’m trying to transform behaviors and ideas that have never been challenged in certain ways in my life. I’m not the kid that I was at 19.”

He added: “All I can do is seek the 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.”

In a piece published Aug. 12, Parker told Variety, “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is” — he took a long silence — “I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

Since Parker’s original comments, the swirling controversy resulted in AFI canceling a planned screening and Q&A for “The Birth of a Nation.” The film was also not given a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival.