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Nate Parker, co-writer, director and star of the acclaimed film The Birth of a Nation, arrives for Vancouver International Film Festival premier of his film in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, October 1, 2016. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Nate Parker, co-writer, director and star of the acclaimed film The Birth of a Nation, arrives for Vancouver International Film Festival premier of his film in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, October 1, 2016. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Nate Parker not worried about impact of sexual assault controversy on film Add to ...

The writer, director and star of The Birth of a Nation says he is not worried about the impact of a sexual assault controversy on his film.

Nate Parker, who was charged and acquitted in a 1999 sexual assault case at Penn State University, was in Vancouver Saturday for a gala screening at the Vancouver International Film Festival. On the red carpet, he was asked by The Globe and Mail whether he had any concerns that the reception of the film would be affected by the personal controversy.

“Not at all, no,” he responded. “But thank you for asking,” he added, smiling.

Mr. Parker was charged along with his college roommate Jean Celestin, who shares a story credit with Mr. Parker on the film. Tried in 2001, Mr. Parker was acquitted, but Mr. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault. The charge was later overturned and the case was not retried. This summer Variety revealed that the victim, who alleged the two accused had harassed her after she came forward, killed herself in 2012.

Opinion: Nate Parker’s past will complicate Oscar campaign for The Birth of a Nation

Back in the spotlight, the case has taken the focus away from the film itself – an unflinching chronicle of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (played by Mr. Parker). The film won raves at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this year and sold for a record price to Fox Searchlight. But the controversy has cast a shadow over the film’s Sundance triumph – and its Oscar hopes.

Ahead of the film’s Oct. 7 release, Mr. Parker addresses the 1999 sexual assault charges against him in an interview this weekend on the CBS program 60 Minutes.

In Vancouver, during remarks ahead of the VIFF screening, neither Mr. Parker nor Aaron L. Gilbert, the head of the Vancouver-based studio that produced the film, addressed the controversy.

There were no protestors evident outside the Vancouver screening and Mr. Parker received a warm welcome inside the theatre – applause and whistles.

In his speech, Mr. Gilbert, President and CEO of Bron Studios, spoke in glowing terms about Mr. Parker (“the good looking guy standing over there”) – about his effort and commitment to getting this important film made; how he put his life and other acting opportunities on hold to devote himself to the project.

Mr. Gilbert also spoke about the importance of the subject matter and its contemporary resonance.

“It’s daily, it’s hourly that every one of us sees or hears something, some tragic shooting that happens in the world – an act of racism, an act of prejudice, sexism, discrimination, hate. Have we learned from our history is a question that we often tell ourselves,” said Mr. Gilbert, who is originally from London, Ontario.

He said he hopes that the film creates a conversation that leads to tolerance and acceptance.

“This story took place over 200 years ago but it still speaks to our time now and what’s happening in the world around us. So many people here, around the world, are oppressed and living through injustice.”

Mr. Parker heaped praise on Mr. Gilbert for providing the film with financial support – even as the necessary commitment increased repeatedly.

“He basically told me no matter what it takes, we are going to make this movie happen,” Mr. Parker told the Vancouver audience, explaining that he was at a breaking point at the time, having tried to get the film made for at least five years at that point.

“And to have a man that is not even from America, doesn’t even live on that soil could give up such a commitment to tell a story about an injury in America because he saw the value of it to the world – meant everything to me.”

The film itself received enthusiastic applause – and a standing ovation from a few people in the audience.

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