NEW YORK – In an interview with “60 Minutes,” Nate Parker was unapologetic for a 17-year-old rape case that has surrounded his film, “The Birth of a Nation.”
In excerpts from the interview to air Sunday shared exclusively with The Associated Press on Thursday, Parker said he was “falsely accused” and declined to make any apology. The woman who made the accusation killed herself in 2012.
Her sister, Sharon Loeffler, published a column in the trade paper Variety on Thursday, blasting Parker and “Nation” collaborator Jean Celestin for their role in her sister’s life and for including a fictional rape scene in their film.
Loeffler said she was very close to her sister and feels “a duty to speak on her behalf.” ”Nate Parker caused her so much pain, and that pain and anger are still raw for me,” she writes.
Parker maintains in the “60 Minutes” interview that the accusations were unwarranted.
“I was falsely accused … I went to court … I was vindicated,” he says. “I feel terrible that this woman isn’t here … Her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is — no.”
In the interview, Anderson Cooper presses Parker on whether he did something morally wrong.
“As a Christian man … just being in that situation, yeah, sure,” says Parker. “I am 36 years old right now … my faith is very important to me … so looking back through that lens … it’s not the lens I had when I was 19 years old.”
Parker, who stars in, directed, co-wrote and co-produced “The Birth of a Nation,” instead argued that his film, about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, deserves more attention than himself and the rape accusation, made when he was a student at Penn State. Parker was acquitted in the case.
“I think that Nat Turner, as a hero, what he did in history, is bigger than me,” said Parker. “I think it’s bigger than all of us.”
“The Birth of a Nation” first debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival where it was hailed as an antidote to the then-raging “OscarsSoWhite” backlash. Parker’s film immediately sparked widespread Oscar expectations and a bidding war among distributors. Fox Searchlight, an Academy Awards regular, landed it for a festival record $17.5 million, with the assurance of a nation-wide release. It’s to open in theaters next Friday.
But the newfound attention on Parker put a spotlight on a rape case from when he was a sophomore and wrestler at Penn State University. Parker was acquitted, though his college roommate, Celestin (who has a story credit on “The Birth of a Nation”) was initially found guilty of sexual assault. That conviction was later overturned when the accuser declined to testify for a retrial.
Parker and Celestin allegedly harassed the accuser on campus. The incident spawned a successful civil lawsuit by the woman against the college. But the accuser, after several previous attempts, committed suicide in 2012. Her brother, identified only as Johnny, told The Hollywood Reporter that the rape case “was obviously that point” at which she changed.
Her sister said Thursday that she’s particularly pained by the inclusion of a fictional rape scene in “The Birth of a Nation.”
“Given what happened to my sister, and how no one was held accountable for it, I find this invention self-serving and sinister, and I take it as a cruel insult to my sister’s memory,” she wrote in the column in Variety. “I think it’s important for people to know Nat Turner’s story. But people should know that Turner did not need rape to justify what he did.”
In recent weeks, Parker has sought to deflect attention away from himself. At a closely watched press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in September, Parker deflected questions about the case.
“I would encourage everyone to remember, personal life aside, I’m just one person,” said Parker.