AFI cancels ‘Birth of a Nation’ screening in wake of Nate Parker rape trial controversy

Director Nate Parker, recipient of the Breakthrough Director of the Year Award arrives for the CinemaCon 2016 Big Screen Achievement Awards on April 14, 2016. A screening of Parker's critically acclaimed film "Birth of a Nation" has been canceled due to the controversy surrounding 1999 rape trial. File Photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 24 (UPI) — The American Film Institute has cancelled a planned screening of director Nate Parker’s critically acclaimed film, “The Birth of Nation,” in light of the controversy surrounding his 1999 rape trial.

“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” wrote AFI dean Jan Schuette about the cancellation to the school’s fellows, according to Deadline.

“Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience,” he continued. “Fox has agreed to host a screening of the film for us later in the year.”

The screening was set to take place Friday alongside a Q&A session with Parker for students at the school.

The cancellation comes after the resurfacing of rape allegations levied against Parker in 1999 that have returned due to the buzz surrounding “The Birth of a Nation.”

Parker, who also stars in the film, addressed the controversy on social media recently after new information revealed that the woman who accused Parker and his college roommate at the time, “Birth of a Nation” co-writer Jean Celestin, of rape had committed suicide in 2012.

“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,” Parker wrote.

“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,” he continued.

Parker was acquitted by a jury in 2001 while Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The verdict was appealed and a new trial was granted in 2005. It never made it to court, however, as the woman decided not to testify again.

“The Birth of a Nation,” which follows Nat Turner’s slave rebellion from 1831, opens in theaters on Oct. 7.

Studio Fox Searchlight has defended Parker amid the controversy, releasing a statement saying the movie studio is aware of the incident, and stating that Parker was “found innocent and cleared of all charges.”

“We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”


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