A brief history of The Birth of a Nation, and the controversies surrounding its creator, Nate Parker:
2009: Working off a story he co-wrote with his Pennsylvania State University classmate Jean Celestin, Nate Parker begins writing the screenplay for a biopic of 1830s slave-revolt leader Nat Turner. He does so while under a fellowship at the Sundance Institute.
2013: After scoring critical notices for his turn in the romance Beyond the Lights, Parker tells his agents that he won’t be acting again until he can play Turner on the big screen. “I was willing to stick to that – and if it was my lot to never act again, so be it,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. Parker would spend the next two years raising funds to get the Turner biopic produced, using $100,000 (U.S.) of his own money to kick-start the process.
May, 2015: Thanks to a disparate group of investors – including NBA players and Vancouver producer Aaron L. Gilbert – The Birth of a Nation begins filming in Georgia. Parker directs the film in a quick 27-day shoot.
Jan. 25, 2016: The Birth of a Nation has its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earning a prolonged standing ovation and sparking an intense bidding war among distributors. By paying a record-breaking $17.5-million, Fox Searchlight nabs the film over such rivals as Netflix and The Weinstein Company.
Aug. 12: Although Parker had previously talked with the media about the sexual-assault charges he and Celestin faced as Penn State students, the story has mostly been forgotten – until Parker gives interviews with Variety and Deadline, attempting to head off the controversy before the fall film season. “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” he tells Variety. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that.”
Aug. 16: Variety breaks the news that the woman who alleged that Parker and Celestin sexually assaulted her in 1999 committed suicide in 2012. On Facebook, Parker says he was not aware of her death, and writes: “I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will.”
Aug. 24: The American Film Institute cancels its screening of Parker’s film.
Aug. 26: Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, urges filmgoers to see the movie: “The important thing is for people to see it and enjoy the film.”
Aug. 26: Parker gives an interview to Ebony magazine, calling his earlier response to the allegations “arrogant,” and adding, “All I can do is seek the information that’ll make me stronger, that’ll help me overcome my toxic masculinity, my male privilege.”
Sept. 9: The film premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, its first high-profile screening since Sundance. It’s met with a warm reception, including a standing ovation once Parker and members of his cast appear after the end credits roll. A brief onstage Q&A with Parker includes no mention of the past court case.
Sept. 11: Parker and his castmates hold a news conference in Toronto. When a reporter for The New York Times asks Parker why, if his film is about moral accountability, he has not apologized to the family of his accuser, the star sidesteps the question. “This is a forum for the film and for the other people sitting on this stage. It’s not mine. I don’t own it. So I don’t want to hijack this with my personal life,” he says.
Oct. 2: 60 Minutes airs an interview with Parker, in which the actor maintains his innocence: “I was falsely accused. I went to court. I sat in trial. I was vindicated.”
Oct. 3: During an appearance on Good Morning America, Parker says, “I was proven innocent, and I’m not going to apologize for that.”Report Typo/Error