Spike Lee Defends Nate Parker at Venice Film Festival, Says ‘We’ve Got to Move Forward’ After Parker Apologizes for Being ‘Tone Deaf’ in Response to College Rape Allegation

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The Oscar-winning filmmaker was on hand to present Parker’s new film “American Skin,” his first since a rape allegation against him resurfaced in 2016.

In January of 2016, The Birth of a Nation was the talk of the Sundance Film Festival. The lyrical film, chronicling Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, had landed at just the right time—in the midst of #OscarsSoWhite, a controversy stemming from the fact that all 20 acting nominees at the Academy Awards that year were white. After a heated bidding war, it was acquired by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, making it the priciest acquisition in Sundance history, and looked poised for an awards run.

Then, in the months prior to its release, writer/director/producer/star Nate Parker’s past rape allegation resurfaced.

In 1999, while a student on a wrestling scholarship at Penn State University, Parker and his best friend, Jean Celestin—a co-writer on The Birth of a Nation—were accused of raping a young white woman on campus, as well as subsequently launching a harassment campaign against her that ultimately forced her to switch schools. A jury acquitted Parker, but Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months to a year in jail. When the judge deemed that sentence “too lenient,” Celestin was sentenced to an additional two to four years behind bars—upon being granted a second trial, however, prosecutors declined to retry the case, and he was set free.

Parker and Celestin’s accuser wasn’t so lucky. She dropped out of school, and her mental health gradually deteriorated until, in April 2012, she took her own life.

During the press tour for The Birth of a Nation, Parker was criticized for a perceived coldness and lack of remorse concerning the woman and her allegation—so much so that the producers of the film had to hire several firms to give him media training—and the film took in just under $16 million at the box office while receiving no major awards attention.

Three years later, Parker is back with his sophomore feature American Skin, which debuts Sept. 1 at the Venice Film Festival. The film, written, directed by, and starring Parker, centers on Lincoln Jefferson (Parker), a Marine veteran who, after his 14-year-old son is executed by a white police officer during a traffic stop, and after no charges are filed against the cop, holds the entire precinct hostage in his quest for justice.

American Skin—which currently lacks a U.S. distributor—was a late addition to the festival lineup, and on Sunday afternoon, a last-minute press conference was held for the film featuring Parker, producers Mark Burg and Tarak Ben Ammar, and Spike Lee, who is given a “presented by” credit on the project.

At the presser, Parker—whose facility with the media has clearly improved since 2016, with the actor bursting into tears on several seemingly-at-random occasions—immediately addressed the controversy surrounding the rape allegation and his response.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last three years. It’s been a journey of wisdom—talking to people who are important to me, asking their advice, getting their support and learning more about myself, being introspective about the last three years, and I’ve learned a lot,” said Parker. “Standing here at 39, the reality is I was quite tone-deaf to a lot of the things around in the climate, and my response during that time obviously hurt a lot of people, and frustrated and angered a lot of people, and I apologize to them. I’m still learning, and growing, and still feeling the need to make films that I think speak to things that need to change in our country, and the world.”

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast – Marlow Stern