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“Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker has been the center of a media storm since it was revealed in August that a woman accused him of raping her while they both attended Penn State in 1999.
Parker was acquitted of the rape charge in a 2001 trial, and the woman who made the accusation reportedly killed herself in 2012.
Now one of the actresses from his film is speaking out about being raped and what she makes of the accusations against Parker.
Gabrielle Union (“Bad Boys II”), who plays a woman who is raped in the film, wrote an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times in which she says she was raped when she was 19 and speaks about why the news about Parker has left her “in a state of stomach-churning confusion.”
“I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.”
But since the news of Parker’s rape allegation, she can’t help but question Parker’s actions, even if he thought he had consent:
“I cannot take these allegations lightly. On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said ‘no,’ silence certainly does not equal ‘yes.’ Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ is problematic at least, criminal at worst. That’s why education on this issue is so vital.”
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In 1999, Parker, then a student and wrestler at Penn State, and his roommate Jean McGianni Celestin (who wrote the screenplay for “The Birth of a Nation” with Parker) were charged with raping an 18-year-old woman in their apartment after a night of drinking. Parker and Celestin have stated that the encounter was consensual.
Parker was acquitted of the charges, partly because of testimony that he and the woman had consensual sex before. Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison.
Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial in 2005, but the case never went to court, as the victim declined to testify again.
Parker said this in the Ebony interview about what he thought consent meant back in college:
“I’ll say this: at 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go? If I touch her breast and she’s down for me to touch her breast, cool. If I touch her lower, and she’s down and she’s not stopping me, cool. I’m going to kiss her or whatever. It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent.”
In her op-ed, Union says that teaching her children about respecting the opposite sex has become as important as other life lessons a young person should know:
“My husband [NBA star Dwyane Wade] and I stress the importance of their having to walk an even straighter line than their white counterparts. A lesson that is heartbreaking and infuriating, but mandatory in the world we live in. We have spent countless hours focused on manners, education, the perils of drugs. We teach them about stranger-danger and making good choices. But recently I’ve become aware that we must speak to our children about boundaries between the sexes. And what it means to not be a danger to someone else.”