Nate Parker’s Rape Case: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Nate Parker received the Breakthrough Director of the Year Award at Cinemacon in April 2016. (Getty)

In January 2016, actor/writer/director Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, a film about Nat Turner’s slavery rebellion, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to near unanimous praise. Fox Searchlight spent a record $17.5 million to distribute the movie. But the trajectory of Parker’s career changed in an instant when his rape charge from 1999 resurfaced. On August 16, 2016, the accuser’s brother told Variety that she committed suicide in 2012.

Now even Parker’s co-stars are questioning their support for the film. On September 2, Gabrielle Union, whose character is raped in the film, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angles Times, writing, “As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly.”

Parker was acquitted. Jean Celestin, who co-wrote Nation with Parker, was also charged in the case and was convicted, although his sentence was later thrown out on appeal.

During an interview with 60 Minutes that aired on October 2, Parker refused to apologize for his alleged role in the rape. He insisted that he had nothing to apologize for and said he is innocent. Parker told Anderson Cooper:

I’ll say this, you know, I do think it’s tragic, so much of what’s happened. And the fact that the family’s had to endure with respect to this woman not being here. But I do– I also think that– you know, and I don’t want to harp on this and I don’t want to be disrespectful of them at all. You know, but, you know, at some point I have to say it. You know, I was falsely accused. You know, I went to court. And I sat in trial. You know, I was vinc– I was– I was vindicated. I was proven innocent. I was vindicated. And I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here. You know, I feel terrible that, you know, her family had to deal with that. But as I sit here, an apology is– no.

Parker’s poor performance in interviews, tied with the controversy surrounding his rape case, resulted in The Birth of a Nation becoming a financial disaster for Fox Searchlight. Since the film’s release on October 7, it has grossed just $14.2 million. Fox Searchlight spent a record $17.5 million to acquire the film and is expected to take a $17.5 million loss.

Here is a look at the case and the reaction to it.


1. The Victim Accused Parker & Celestin of Raping Her in August 1999

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Nate Parker at CinemaCon 2016. (Getty)

The alleged rape took place on the morning of August 21, 1999 at Pennsylvania State University. Parker was there on a wrestling scholarship and later transferred to the University of Oklahoma in 2002. Celestin and the accuser, who has not been named, were also students at the university at the time. The accuser was 18 years old and Parker was 20 at the time of the alleged rape.

In her testimony, which you can read here via Deadline, the accuser said that she knew Parker before the alleged incident, but did not know Celestin. She said she spoke with Parker on the phone before moving into her dorm that summer. He asked her to stay at his house on August 18, 1999, but a male friend named Courtney Jordan told her not to do it, she testified. The accuser said her friend told her that Parker was a “dog” and she followed her friend’s advice.

The accuser said that she finally met Parker the following day as she was moving in and unpacking. She believed that it was best to meet him on her territory so “if anything happened, you know, I could let him go.”

According to her testimony, Parker came into her dorm room. She said:

He came up. Initially we spoke like he could help me unpack. I started unpacking. He was sitting down on my bed. He then asked me to sit beside him. I was putting away a red dress I do remember and he asked me to try it on and I told him no and he asked me to sit beside him. He started rubbing my neck, kissing my neck, kissing. We did kiss back and forth. I was wearing a skirt. He tugged at my panties and I pulled them back up and I said, no, I do not know you that well yet and instead I performed oral sex on him.

When asked why she agreed to have oral sex, she testified:

I liked him, but I don’t see that — I mean at the time I did it because I didn’t want to have sex, but I didn’t want to leave it at nothing. I can’t really explain it. I’m not proud of it, but I saw it as being safer and not as big an issue.

On the following day, August 20, the two met at a restaurant where a Latin band was playing. The accuser testified that he suggested they meet and she suggested the place. She “saw it as a date” and he asked her to bring a friend for his roommate. She showed up alone at the restaurant at 10 p.m.

Parker didn’t show up at first. The accuser sat at a table near a bar and testified that she talked to an older man in his 40s who was buying her drinks. Inbetween, she called Parker using a payphone, but there was no answer. Around midnight, Parker finally showed up, but she said she wanted to go right back to a friend’s apartment. At this point, “I’m pretty drunk,” she testified.

At the apartment, the accuser continued to be offered drinks and she accepted rum. She described the scene:

I mean I knew I was intoxicated. Just blurry vision. I don’t remember conversation. I don’t remember who was in the room. I don’t remember how many people were in the room. I just knew I was there.

She then told Parker that she was “too drunk” to go back to her dorm and feared getting into trouble for being drunk on campus. They went back to his apartment so she could sleep. She remembered someone holding her as they walked to the apartment. When they arrived, she saw two other people sitting on a bed and watching TV. They gave her a shirt and she went to sleep. Next, she opened her eyes and saw Nate having “intercourse with me.” She continued:

It was just a split second. And then awake again and another gentleman with his penis in my mouth and somebody on top of me and then, again, somebody just on top of me other than Nate and as far as that, that’s all I remember.

She said she was wondering where Parker was. When she awoke, she saw no one else. She testified that she was “completely naked and I’m like, oh, shit, I’ve just been raped and I get up to go home and then the next thing I know is I’m in the bathroom and there is red everywhere and I’m having cold water splashed on my face.”


2. Parker & Celestin Said the Sex Was Consensual & the Accuser Suddenly Called in October 1999, Saying She Was ‘Late’

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Nate Parker. (Getty)

In Parker and Celestin’s statements to police, also available here via Deadline, they said that the sex was consensual. They heard from the accuser on October 12, 1999, when she called saying she was “late” and worried she was pregnant.

Parker recalled that he did not use protection when they had sex on the morning of August 21. The accuser then asked Parker who else was in the room and Parker said she should have known. She replied, according to Parker, “No I don’t – I was too drunk to remember.”

The next call with the accuser was on October 17. This call was recorded and lasted 30 minutes to an hour, Parker said. Parker said that the accuser still wasn’t sure if she was pregnant, which surprised him. He offered to help her and she said she “wanted to get Jean to apologize to her so that she ‘could move on.'” He said Celestin wouldn’t apologize because he still insisted he didn’t do anything wrong.

Celestin said that his conversation with the accuser was “very short” and he was confused about why she wanted an apology from him because, “She was fully aware of what had occurred in our apartment” and “she had never complained and gave every indication of enjoying and in actively participating in sexual activity.” She said she at least waned an apology for him not wearing a condom.

Although Celestin and Parker claimed that they did not know the accuser was drinking before they took her to the apartment, Parker said in one of the recorded phone calls entered into evidence that, “I was drinking, you were drinking, everyone was drinking.” The phone call transcript was entered into evidence and is also available here via Deadline.

In that phone call, Parker also had to explain to the accuser how Celestin got involved in the sexual encounter. He said that Celeistin happened to still be in the apartment when they were having sex and “it started happening and you didn’t do anything to stop it.”

“But Nate, I was so out of it. I was, my whole body was numb, I couldn’t do anything about it,” she replied.

“Did you ask me once if I was ok? Did you ask me, ‘Can I bring somebody else into the room?'” the accuser asked Parker.

“Why would I ask you to bring somebody else in the room when someone’s already in the room? We’d always been in the room, I told you that like twice,” Parker responded.

However, Celestin said in his statement that he was not in the room when Parker and the accuser began having sex. He said he saw them as he walked by the room and he went back into the room. The accuser then looked up at him and he became involved in the sexual activity.

There was another man in the apartment, Tamerlane Kangas. He testified (you can read the testimony here via Deadline) that he went to the restaurant with Celestin and Parker to meet the accuser. Kangas testified that he saw Parker having sex with the accuser and asked him to join. He said he saw the accuser lying on the bed, without moving. Kangas said that Parker invited him and Celestin into the room. Celestin went in, but Kangas said he declined.


3. Parker & Celestin Spoke With Two Mentors Who Parker Claimed Told Them to Find Out What the Accuser’s Motivations Were

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Nate Parker. (Getty)

Parker said that he spoke with Coach Kerry McCoy, who told him that, “These things come up form time to time with girls who feel guilty about what they did before, or may even find themselves pregnant with a multiracial child and rejected by their parents,” according to Parker’s police statement. Parker and Celestin are both black and the accuser was white.

During the trial, McCoy denied telling Parker this, notes the Daily Beast. He claimed he said, “You just have to wait and see what happens.”

They also spoke with a second mentor, Brian Favors, who Parker claimed told them to “try to find this girl to find what she wanted and to treat her nicely.” Favors also denied this, instead saying on the stand, “I wouldn’t even say ‘find out what she wanted’… my advice was talk to her, you know, and also if she says—if there is—you know, if you have reason to believe she is pregnant, whatever the case you need to talk to her and find out what is going on.”

Five days after the accuser reported the rape to State Collect police, Parker and Celestin were finally interviewed by Detective Chris Weaver. Parker said that Celstin spoke with Weaver for two hours and “just kept yelling” during his interview with Weaver. He told Weaver that he believed the sex was consensual.

During his testimony, Weaver said that Parker admitted that what they did with the accuser “wasn’t wright and shouldn’t have happened.” Parker allegedly told Weaver that “it was wrong and I used poor judgement,” but also said that “three people used poor judgement that night.”


4. While Parker Was Acquitted, Celestin Was Convicted on Sexual Assault

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Nate Parker at the 47th NAACP Image Awards. (Getty)

Parker was acquitted on October 5, 2001, but Celestin was convicted on sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to six to 12 months in prison. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in November 2001, the judge tailored the sentence so Celestin could still pick up his diploma on December 15. Although a victims’ rights group wanted Penn State to stop this, a spokesman for the university said the accuser didn’t want anything done until after the criminal case was completed.

However, before the graduation ceremony, The Inquirer reported, Celestin was expelled from the university for two years. Celestin was allowed to return to the university to get his diploma after the expulsion ended.

“Ridiculous,” the accuser told the Inquirer at the time. “I mean, I’m happy they removed him, but he can get his diploma after two years, and the fact he was convicted of sexual assault won’t be on his record . . . because they’re charging him with committing a ‘crime’ instead of committing sexual assault. A ‘crime’ could be anything.”

The conviction caused controversy on campus among black students, because Celestin was convicted by an all-white jury for allegedly assaulting a white victim.

The original sentence was later extended to 2-4 years by the Superior Court. Later, Celestin appealed the decision because of ineffective counsel. His conviction was overturned and he was never re-tried.


5. The Women’s Law Project Sued Penn State on the Accuser’s Behalf, Claiming That Parker & Celestin Stalked Her & Made Her Name Public on Campus

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Nate Parker in 2012. (Getty)

In 2011, WATE reported that the Women’s Law Project filed a civil lawsuit, which you can read here via Deadline, on the accuser’s behalf. The lawsuit was filed in March 2002.

The suit claimed that Penn State’s only discipline for Parker and Celestin was suspending them from the wrestling team, even as they continued to receive their wrestling scholarships. The suit cliamed that Celestin and Parker harassed the accuser on campus, with Parker allegedly staying outside her dorm to stop her from leaving.

“They followed her. They called her names. They publicized her name. They tortured her. And the school’s response was a slap on the wrist,” Sue Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project told WATE in 2011.

The school and the Women’s Law Project reached a $17,500 settlement.

The incident changed the accuser’s life. Her brother, identified as Johnny, told Variety that she committed suicide in 2012. She was 30-years-old and living at a drug rehabilitation center.

“She became detached from reality. The progression was very quick and she took her life,” Johnny told Variety.

The accuser had also tried to commit suicide on November 17, 1999, the Women’s Law Project claimed in its lawsuit.

On August 12, 2016, Parker gave similar statements to Variety and Deadline. He told Variety:

Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. 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.

After news of the death of the accuser broke, Parker wrote a Facebook message, which has since been removed. In the post, he wrote:

“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 19. 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.”

At the moment, Fox Searchlight is still planning a theatrical release of The Birth of a Nation on October 7, but a special screening at the American Film Institute was cancelled. On September 10 and 11, Parker will be in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival.

5 Comments

5 Comments

No

He was wrong by having any kind of sex w/woman who has been drinking. He might of felt it an easy conquest, but morally, and honestly he knew down deep it was an easy target. You can be drunk as a skunk, but common sense still plays a big part in this issue. Color does not matter, common sense rules here.

Brian george

Come on now…this same girl gave him oral sex completely sober.

brianssucks

brian george you are a piece of trash. just cause a girl reluctantly gives you head one day doesn’t mean she wants you and your buddy to double team her when she’s too drunk to even go home. plus these guys own friend stated he saw her on the bed not moving

Yank

as long as the entertainer/person is black, or even just anti-white, what’s the problem with a rape, or even a string of rapes? white people are the main problem, so let’s just concentrate on punishing them, blaming them.

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