Variety reports that the woman who accused Parker and his then-rooomate (and now “The Birth of a Nation” co-writer) Jean Celestin of raping her while they attended Penn State in 1999 died in 2012, apparently at her own hand. Parker and Celestin were brought to trial on charges of rape and sexual assault in 2001, and though Parker was cleared of all charges, Celestin served time in prison for sexual assault. During the trial, Parker and Celestin’s accuser testified that she had attempted suicide twice after the alleged crime.
Although details of the case have long been publicly available, a number of new details have come to light in recent days, presumably because Parker’s Sundance premiere “The Birth of a Nation” will soon need to start stumping for awards season glory. In what appears to be an attempt to “get ahead” of the story before Parker is thrown into the kind of intense scrutiny that often accompanies such campaigning, the actor and filmmaker issued a pair of one-on-one interviews to both Deadline and Variety last week about the case. What has followed, however, has been a further explosion of heartbreaking details and new questions.
In response to the news of his accuser’s death, Parker took to his Facebook page to write a personal statement to express that he was “devastated” and “filled with profound sorrow” to learn of her passing. Parker added, “I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom. I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name.”
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Throughout his statement, Parker continued to maintain his innocence, writing that their “encounter was unambiguously consensual.” The full text from Parker’s Facebook post is below:
These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being.
I write to you all devastated…
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.
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.
I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in.
I cannot change what has happened. I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life…
I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability.
All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.
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.
Last night, the accuser’s family issued their own statement to The New York Times, which reads in part, “We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.”
Yet the woman’s own sister, Sharon Loeffler, made her own statement to the newspaper, one that comes with a much stronger message about both the past and the future: “I know what she would’ve said, and that would be, ‘I fought long and hard, it overcame me. All I can ask is any other victims to come forward, and not let this kind of tolerance to go on anymore.’”
Loeffler added, “These guys sucked the soul and life out of her.”
Over at The Daily Beast, reporters Kate Briquelet and M.L. Nestel have turned in a deep dive on the case entitled “Inside the Nate Parker Rape Case,” which follows the story from its start and includes insights into the trial, comments from the accuser’s family and a seemingly never-ending series of heart-wrenching details.
Despite a Variety report from earlier this week that detailed the ways in which Fox Searchlight might have to change their release and promotion strategy for the film, as “part of the sales agreement for the film called for the label to support a roadshow that would have sent Parker around the country, to churches and college campuses, discussing issues of social justice. But each public appearance runs the risk of journalists or audience members reviving details of the court case and raising difficult questions,” the studio says they are standing behind Parker and the film.
In a new statement (via Entertainment Weekly), the studio commented, “Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he 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.”
The film will soon screen at the Toronto International Film Festival next month, though it is unclear how — or even if — Parker will be on hand to promote it.
“The Birth of a Nation” is currently set for an October 7 release.