Nate Parker is getting a lot of praise for Birth of a Nation, the upcoming slave-rebellion drama he not only stars in, but wrote and directed. But Parker’s controversial personal life is threatening to overshadow what could be one of the best film’s of the year.
In 1999, Parker, then a sophomore at Penn State, was charged with participating in the sexual assault of a young woman.Although he was acquitted in a 2001 trial, the story resurfaced in the wake of Nation’s release, with some calling for an outright boycott.
“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety last week.
“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.”
Filmgoers will have to decide for themselves how to process the incident and his statements about it. But more recently, Parker has bemoaned how Hollywood “feminizes” African-American men on screen, to the point of declaring he would never play a homosexual.
“I refuse to allow any piece of work to emasculate me for very specific reasons,” he told an interviewer at the Essence Music Festival. “That kind of shrinks the pool of available material, but the material that I am blessed to do is material that I can be proud of, that my kids can watch, that my grandmother can watch. And I think that those are the things that over time create legacies.”
Parker, who previously appeared in films like Beyond the Lights and The Secret Life of Bees, has called out films, like Big Mama’s House and the Madea movie, that put black men in drag—or that portray characters of “questionable sexuality.”
He reportedly told one outlet “to preserve the black man… you will never see me take a gay role.”
Problematic depictions of minorities—African-Americans and gay men alike—need to be called out. But are we still fighting the idea that playing gay is demeaning?
And are we locked into one, stale definition of masculinity? Would Parker not want his grandmother or children see him play Bayard Rustin or James Baldwin?
Hopefully, this is one vow Parker won’t keep.