“My sister was raped 60 days after her 18th birthday,” begins Sharon Loeffler in a new column for Variety. “She was a freshman at Penn State University. The defendants charged in the case, Nate Parker and Jean Celestin, were on the wrestling team and had the power of the Penn State Athletic Department behind them.” As you’ll likely have heard by now, Parker — who wrote, directed and starred in “The Birth of a Nation” — was acquitted in the ensuing trial. That wasn’t the end of the story, of course — Loeffler’s sister (whose name has not been released) committed suicide in 2012.
News of the trial was not widely known when “Birth of a Nation” premiered to acclaim at Sundance this year and was acquired by Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million. In the last two months, however, it’s understandably dominated discussion of the soon-to-be-released drama. “It took me more than two years to not cry uncontrollably every day over her loss,” continues Loeffler. Especially distasteful to her is the invention of a rape scene in “Birth,” which tells of the Nat Turner–led 1831 slave rebellion, as an inciting incident.
That rape never occurred, notes Loeffler. “Given what happened to my sister, and how no one was held accountable for it, I find this invention self-serving and sinister, and I take it as a cruel insult to my sister’s memory.” She then suggests that Fox Searchlight either add a disclaimer noting that the rape never took place or remove the scene entirely.
Loeffler says she’s still waiting for the “true version” of Turner’s story to be told, “one that respects history and does not re-exploit my sister.” Parker, meanwhile, says that he was “vindicated” at the trial and doesn’t feel the need to apologize in a “60 Minutes” interview airing this Sunday. Read Loeffler’s full piece here.