The Birth of a Nation: will audiences separate the film from the filmmaker?

Parker’s award-winning directorial debut — an indie historical biopic about preacher Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he led — has been overshadowed by the revelations he had been accused and acquitted of sexual assault while a student at Pennsylvania State University. The complainant committed suicide in 2012.

Some, including The Birth of a Nation actress Aunjanue Ellis, say art and the artist should remain separate. Others, such as fellow cast member and rape survivor Gabrielle Union, see the controversy as an opportunity. In the video below, both speak to CBC’s Eli Glasner about the controversy.

The Birth of a Nation: will audiences separate the artwork from the artist?1:45

Parker has spoken intermittently about the 1999 rape case and also deflected discussion about the revived interest in it. 

However, as his film’s theatrical release approached, he has been a bit more outspoken, including saying he would not apologize for the incident during a 60 Minutes interview that aired last weekend and criticizing the media attention he’s had during an appearance on Steve Harvey’s daytime talk show on Wednesday.

“What are these journalists trying to do? Do they care about anyone involved? Do they care about what we’ve been talking about? I think it’s been a tragedy on so many levels,” Parker said.

‘The ideas of what I thought made a man aren’t the same as the ideas in my mind right now.’
– Nate Parker

“Even outside of this tragic situation, I have so much empathy and even regret for that night. Man, you want to talk about erasing something? … Looking at myself [back then], the ideas of what I thought made a man aren’t the same as the ideas in my mind right now.”

Still, a group of artists, filmmakers and women calling itself F–k Rape Culture will hold a candlelight vigil and silent sit-in Thursday night outside the film’s screening at Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinemas.

“Los Angeles women, gender non conforming, LGBTQ people and their allies are invited to a silent candlelight sit-in vigil for the unnamed victims of rape and sexual assault in the U.S.” organizers wrote.

“Those in attendance of Thursday evenings’ showings of Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation are also invited to join this remembrance. We recognize the need to hold space for those celebrating the advancement of people of colour in Hollywood while continuing to fight for the victims of sexual assault and rape around the world.”

The Birth of a Nation opens to wide release Friday.


The Birth of a Nation director, writer, producer and lead actor Nate Parker is seen with co-stars Gabrielle Union (from second-right), Aja Naomi King and personality Star Jones in Miami in June. (Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

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