Nate Parker on 1999 rape trial controversy: ‘I cannot change what has happened’

Director Nate Parker, recipient of the Breakthrough Director of the Year Award arrives for the CinemaCon 2016 Big Screen Achievement Awards, OMNIA Nightclub at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada on April 14, 2016. Parker has taken to social media to address his 1999 trial for rape. File photo by James Atoa/UPI | License Photo

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., Aug. 18 (UPI) — Nate Parker has addressed rape allegations levied against him in 1999 that have resurfaced due to buzz surrounding his upcoming film, “The Birth of a Nation.”

“I write to you all devastated…,” the director and star of the critically acclaimed historical drama wrote on Facebook Tuesday about new information regarding the woman who accused him and his roommate, “Birth of a Nation” co-writer Jean Celestin, of rape while they were students together at Penn State.

“Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions.”

“These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved,” he continued before commenting on the woman’s brother telling “Variety” this week that his sister 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.”

“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 wrote, still maintaining his innocence.

The woman’s brother, who was identified only as Johnny, said, in describing the effect of the incident in which his sister regained consciousness to find herself being sexually assaulted by two black men: “If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point.”

He told “Variety” that before starting college, his sister was an outgoing person who loved animals, and that she was harassed by Parker and Celestin after reporting the rape, and was in fear of her life.

“I cannot change what has happened,” said Parker. “I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life.”

“I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment,” the 36-year-old said in conclusion.

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, according to “Entertainment Tonight.”

The woman’s brother told Variety that his sister “became detached from reality” in the years leading up to her suicide. He said he believes the case would have played out differently in a trial today.

“I feel certain if this were to happen in 2016, the outcome would be different than it was. Courts are a lot stricter about this kind of thing,” he said.

“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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