Spike Lee Defends Nate Parker at Debut of Parker's New Film

Pilmmaker Spike Lee defended actor and filmmaker Nate Parker during the Venice Film Festival, where Parker debuted his latest film.

During a press conference at the festival, Parker, 39, addressed a rape allegation dating from 1999, IndieWire reported. When he was a sophomore at Penn State University, he and his roommate Jean Celestin, who co-wrote the story for Parker’s movie The Birth of a Nation, were charged with raping an 18-year-old woman in their apartment, Variety previously reported.

Parker told the publication he did have sex with the woman — also a student at the university — but said it was consensual. The woman reported she was unconscious and did not give consent to sexual relations with either Celestin or Parker. Parker was suspended from the wrestling team and transferred to another college in Oklahoma. At his 2001 trial, he was acquitted due to testimony that revealed Parker previously had consensual sex with the woman. Celestin, however, was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison, Variety reported. Celestin appealed the verdict and the second trial in 2005 was thrown out because of the victim’s refusal to testify.

In 2016, the case resurfaced because of attention surrounding the film The Birth of a Nation, which tells the story of Nat Turner’s two-day rebellion against slavery in 1831. During the September 1 press conference, Parker apologized for being “tone deaf” for the way he handled the allegation.

“The last three years have been such a learning experience for me,” Parker told attendees, according to IndieWire. “Three years ago I was pretty tone deaf to the realities of certain situations that were happening in the climate. And I’ve had a lot of time to think about that, and I’ve learned a lot from it. And being tone deaf, there were a lot of people that were hurt in my response, in the way I approached things. I apologize to those people.”

“I’ve learned, I’m continuing to learn,” Parker continued. “I’m 39 years old now. Hopefully I have a long way to go. The hope is that I can continue taking the wisdom from people who care enough… and help me to be introspective about where I am and what I’ve been through.”

Parker’s new film, titled American Skin, will debut in the festival’s Discovery section, Deadline reported. The movie stars Parker as Lincoln Jefferson, a former Marine veteran who is now a janitor and trying to repair his relationship with his son following a divorce, according to IMDb. Jefferson’s son is killed during a police stop, and the officer is later acquitted of the crime. Heartbroken about the elusive nature of justice, he takes the entire police station hostage and stages a trial to achieve an outcome the legal system denied him.

The movie, shot in Los Angeles, was produced by Mark Burg, Tarak Ben Ammar, and Lukas Behnken, Deadline reported. Other actors in the film include Omari Hardwick, Beau Knapp and Theo Rossi.

“I feel very honored to be at the Venice Film Festival with a film I believe so desperately in. I’m an artist,” Parker said. “Nina Simone once said the artist’s job is to reflect the times they live in. We live in very dark times, particularly in the United States.”

Spike Lee called Parker’s film a “tour de force” and appeared at the press conference to support him.

“He explained to me the growth he had gone through, and also the pain, and when he said that, I said, ‘Come on, brother. I’m with you. That’s why I’m here,’” Lee said, according to IndieWire.

Parker told attendees that he was inspired to write the film after the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. On Parker’s film, Lee said, “I haven’t had a film that’s affected me this deeply in a while.”

“This is a very important film and I wanted to be part of it... Art can affect people’s behavior good or bad. And it is my hope that this film deals with the very serious problem with police and Brown and Black people in the United States of America,” Lee said, according to the Associated Press.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.