by Hodan Hassan
Birth of a Nation is a movie about Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a slave rebellion in the 1800’s in Virginia. But that might not be why the film is familiar to you. You may know this movie only because it was recently discovered that the director, Nate Parker, and one of the film’s writers, Jean Celestin, were accused of raping a young woman in 1999, while they were in college at Pennsylvania State University, infamous for its “sweep it under the rug” attitude toward accusations of on-campus sexual assault.
Parker and Celestin raped the young woman while she was drunk. Parker alleged that she was sober enough to say yes. The woman said she was blacking out and remembers flashes of Parker and another man performing sex without her permission. There was a trial in 2001.
Nate Parker walked away scott-free and Jean Celestin, though found guilty, had his sentence overturned in a second trial in 2005. These men moved on with their lives, got rich and successful. The young woman, however, did not have such an easy time of it because, you know, SHE WAS RAPED! She had a child a year after the trial, and 10 years later she killed herself.
So listen, in 1999 there were a whole lot of ‘she said/he said’ accusations, and after all these years there’s still a debate about the rape that took place that night in that college. I say: there’s no ‘he said, she said’ here, there’s only the truth. That truth is that a woman was raped and everyone failed her.
When it comes to rape it feels like people, mostly men but women too, take it as something that just happens and can be explained away. The truth of the matter is that rape is a crime against humanity, it is the theft of someone’s sense of safety and dignity; making them feel like a prisoner in their own body.
Until society sees rape as a crime worth fighting against, there will always be this false notion that there are two sides or, in this particular case, three sides to the story. There is always only one side—the truth as told by the rape victim. No excuses, no ‘he said/she said’.
What, then, should we do about Birth of a Nation and Nate Parker? I have already drawn the line of what I will tolerate and accept from people in Hollywood, and Nate Parker is on the wrong side of my line. We know, in our hearts that there are many Hollywood executives, directors, and producers who have sexually or otherwise assaulted women in their lives, past or present.
So I am not saying that Nate Parker is the first or last director to commit a heinous crime, He is, however, one I can’t forgive or forget. There are lot of people, Black people, who are coming to his defense and saying this story is only coming out now because he is on the verge of a level of success in Hollywood that most black directors don’t reach. They say we should forgive him because he’s a Black man.
I disagree with this stance, It may be true that some probably dug into his past to discredit his success because he’s a Black director. So should we ignore the harm he’s done to the woman he raped? The harm he’s done to her family?
HELL NO. We are complex people as Black folk, so we should be able to understand the forces of anti-Blackness that exist in the world that brought us to this point AND feel the emotions we feel about the crime he’s committed. We should find a way to move forward that we can feel right about.
As a Black woman in this world that caters to men, I choose to believe women who are courageous enough to speak out against the men, powerful or aspiring to power, who violate them. I choose to believe that there are not a lot of avenues for those women to regain control of their lives if we don’t support them.
For this reason and more, I am choosing not to see Birth of a Nation. I long ago decided that I won’t be seeing any more movies about slavery, but I had planned on buying a ticket to show support for a Black director. After hearing and reading some articles about what Nate Parker and Jean Celestin have done, I am drawing the line to stand for women, for justice and for survivors.
Where do you draw your line?
Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight