×

Consider the confluence of circumstances surrounding two men who have nothing to do with each other: Nate Parker and Mel Gibson.

The first — director, writer, and star of the acclaimed film “The Birth of a Nation” — has seen his chances for Oscar glory seriously jeopardized by the emergence of 1999 rape charges for which he was acquitted.

The second, who like Parker is both a director and an actor, saw his own storied career stall after several troubling incidents came to light beginning 10 years ago — from spouting racist and anti-Semitic nonsense to hitting his girlfriend, which yielded a misdemeanor charge to which he pleaded no contest. But with two buzzed-about movies heading to theaters in the coming months, Gibson seems finally on the verge of a comeback at the same time Parker’s promise threatens to fade.

As Gibson quietly moves toward redemption while so many speak out against Parker, a difficult question is bound to be asked: Can Hollywood really end up condoning one but condemning the other?

The racial overtones inherent in this potential double standard would be controversial, to say the least. They certainly wouldn’t reflect well on the Academy, which is eager to distance itself from charges of racism that battered the organization last year. Oscar love for “Birth” would surely help undo that damage.

Parker is prompting Academy voters to wrestle anew with the question of separating artists from their art, one that has been kicked around in Hollywood before, from Roman Polanski to Woody Allen. But this time around, the queasy task of comparing Parker’s sins to Gibson’s is inevitable. For example, Parker was accused of committing one crime while Gibson has been something of a repeat offender. Gibson has already spent time in Hollywood jail while Parker hasn’t. So how do you weigh their sins against each other? Did one of their apologies seem more sincere? Which man is more likely to transgress again?

The considerations are endless, and consequently, perhaps pointless. What Hollywood does need to reckon with, however, is that a moral calculus on Parker can’t be made in a vacuum. Judge if you must, but be mindful of the implications.

 

CORRECTION: The original version of this commentary mistakenly alleged in the third paragraph that Gibson had struck his wife, which is incorrect. The allegation was intended to refer to Gibson’s ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, and has been amended.