Nate Parker, director and star of the upcoming The Birth of a Nation, was charged of rape in 1999 as a 19-year-old student at Penn State. Parker has recently addressed the case again, for which he was eventually acquitted, in an effort to address the controversy before Oscar season begins.
Parker, now 36-years-old, talked about the case with Deadline and called it "one of the most painful moments in my life." He was accused along with his roommate, fellow wrestling teammate and eventual The Birth of a Nation co-writer Jean Celestin, who was also acquitted of rape. But unlike Parker, Celestin was convicted of sexual assault and faced six to twelve months in jail. Celestin later appealed when the Superior Court increased the sentence to two to four years, but a retrial never happened because the accuser didn't testify again, Variety reported.
On Aug. 21, 1999, the accuser—who, as her brother told Variety, wanted to remain anonymous—was an 18-year-old freshman when she was allegedly raped. She came forward with the charges two months later. At the trial the accuser recalled being heavily intoxicated when she went to sleep at Parker and Celestin's apartment. The victim said she was mostly unconscious, only waking up briefly in the middle of sex with Parker. In another moment of consciousness, she recalled having another man's penis in her mouth, who she later identified as Celestin. Both Parker and Celestin said the sex was consensual. In a trial statement, Celestin said, "she pulled me into her mouth and used both her hand and her mouth to stroke my penis."
Trial records show the woman said that the day before the alleged rape she had gotten physical with Parker. She performed oral sex on him after the two started making out because she didn’t want to have sex with him. "We did kiss back and forth," she said. "I was wearing a skirt. He tugged at my panties, and I pulled them back up and I said, no, I do not know you that well yet and instead I performed oral sex on him."
During the night of the alleged rape, there was another person there who saw Parker and the victim having sex: Tamerlane Kangas. Kangas testified that Parker waved him and Celestin to come into the room after Parker caught him and Celestin spying on Parker and the woman having sex. Kangas said he chose to leave afterward, but Celestin took up the offer. "I didn’t believe that four people at one time was—you know, it didn’t seem right," Kangas said.
In a phone call with Parker after the incident, the accuser lied about being pregnant in order to get Parker to name a third man allegedly involved in the sex that night. In a second phone call, Parker and Celestin reportedly admitted to the sex but said it was consensual.
A partial transcript of the phone call has Parker telling the accuser: "For you to say that you were just passing out and this and that is totally, that’s just wrong. I’m saying that you were totally conscious. You may not remember, you may say that you don’t remember now, and I can understand you saying that, maybe, but you were completely conscious."
Parker was acquitted of all charges on October 5, 2001.
Variety spoke to the accuser’s brother, who said the woman committed suicide in 2012 at age 30.
"She became detached from reality," the woman’s brother, only identified as Johnny told Variety. "The progression was very quick and she took her life."
The sexual assault lawsuit said the woman had attempted suicide twice after the alleged assault. Variety obtained her death certificate and reported she suffered from "major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse….”
Asked about Parker’s upcoming The Birth of a Nation, Johnny said: "I don’t think a rapist should be celebrated. It’s really a cultural decision we’re making as a society to go to the theater and speak with our dollars and reward a sexual predator."
Parker reiterated that he was cleared of all charges in his Deadline interview, where he also called sexual assault a "serious issue," saying: "The reality is, this is a serious issue, a very serious issue, and the fact that there is a dialogue going on right now around the country is paramount. It is critical. The fact we are making moves and taking action to protect women on campuses and off campuses, and educating men and persecuting them when things come up… I want women to stand up, to speak out when they feel violated, in every degree, as I prepare to take my own daughter to college."
You can read Parker and Celestin's statements here.
On Tuesday night, Parker shared a lengthy message on his official Facebook page upon hearing about her suicide. "I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow," he wrote. "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," he continued. "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."
You can read his full message below.