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Nate Parker was poised to become a superstar with the release of his highly touted film, The Birth Of A Nation. However, thanks to a lackluster answer to a question about his past, the film’s roll out is in jeopardy while a debate has been sparked (actually, rehashed) about whether a man accused of rape should even be supported. 

Back in 1999, Parker, then a student athlete at Penn State was charged, along with his roommate Jean Celestin, of raping an 18-year-old student after a night of drinking. Parker maintained that the sex was consensual (the woman said she was unconscious and did not give consent) and was eventually acquitted two years later.

However, Celestin was found guilty. He appealed the verdict but a new trial set for 2005 was dismissed after the victim refused to testify again.

Parker was recently asked about the incident.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety in a story published on August 12. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is… I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

Needless to say, many were not feeling the filmmaker’s answer, and he probably knew he stepped on a virtual landmine. He quickly set up an interview with Deadline to cop more pleas.

He told Deadline:

“I was sure it would come up,” Parker said. “It is there, on my Wikipedia page, the Virginia Pilot … I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years removed from one of the most painful … [he wells up at the memory] moments in my life. And I can imagine it was painful, for everyone. I was cleared of everything, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of living, and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.”

Parker made clear that the case does not define his attitude toward women. “Women have been such an important part of my life. I try, every day, to be a better father to my daughters, and a better husband,” he said. More, Parker acknowledged and applauded a growing intolerance for sexual violence: “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.”

However, the social media court of law pretty much wants blood.

The arguments are nuanced. There are the conspiracy theorist who believe this is only coming to light because Parker was about to put The Birth of a Nation, a film about a violent and brutal slave rebellion, in the national spotlight. Another Black man sabotage just before he’s set to blow up.

Then there are those who feel the only victim here is the woman who accused Parker and Celestin, who is credited as a co-writer of The Birth of a Nation, of rape. The details of the trial are public and damning. The victim claims she was in and out of consciousness and woke up to find Celestin’s penis in her mouth. Celestin and another man spied Parker engaging in sex with the victim. Parker motioned for them to join while the other man passed. The third man was never charged, but many point to him as a witness to Parker’s foulness.

There are also those who say, “Hey, he was acquitted in a court of law.” However, how can you have faith in a justice system that routinely railroads Black men? Add to this mix Black women who feel Black men are playing themselves via blind devotion to a flawed, allegedly, character like Parker (in the victim’s complaint, she accused Parker and Celestin of revealing her identity on Penn State’s campus) and the vitriol on social media is just getting ugly.

Let us know what you think of this drama in the comments. Check out some of the debate below and on the following pages.

UPDATE: Nate Parker’s rape accuser committed suicide in 2012.

Photo: Fox Searchlight

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