The tremendous amount of Oscar buzz and great reviews that the Nat Turner biopic, “Birth of a Nation,” received at the Sundance Film Festival was a misleading start for the film, which had a underwhelming premiere at the box office grossing only $8 million.
The film was boycotted due to allegations against the film’s director, producer, and star Nate Parker. In 1999 the actor, then a student at Pennsylvania State University, and his classmate and collaborator of the film, Jean Celestin, were accused of sexual assault.
After a night at a local bar, Parker invited a female friend of his to stay at his apartment. She recalled waking up to Parker “having intercourse” with her. Celestin was also accused of taking advantage of her without consent during the night. Parker and Celestin were arrested and Celestin was taken into custody for six months while Parker was acquitted. Eventually, Celestin was found guilty and was expelled from Penn State. Both of their cases were eventually acquitted but the rape scandal continues to hang over their heads.
The victim said she was harassed by Parker and his friends continuously after the accusation and even attempted to end her life because of it later that year. Eventually, in 2012 she did commit suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills in a rehab facility.
The allegations happened in 1999; yet, today in 2016 the two are being boycotted and a screening at the American Film Institute was canceled. Posters all over Los Angeles have Nate Parker’s name written on them with the word “Rapist?” underneath but Fox Searchlight continues to support Nate Parker and the film throughout this.
Fox Searchlight’s support of the film is direct support of rape culture. People boycotted the film for the same reason people started to back away from Trump. They refuse to be seen as supporters of an alleged rapist. Boycotting and voting against people accused of sexual abuse is a way people voice their opinion.
Petitions to ban the film from theaters have been made by moviegoers unwilling to support an alleged rapist. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Parker admits that he doesn’t feel guilty for what happened, even though he said it was morally wrong. In several interviews, he insists and insists that he is innocent.
“Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” said costar Gabrielle Union in an interview with The Los Angeles Times.
Union, who was raped at gunpoint while working at a Payless shoe store in 1992, had to thoroughly consider whether or not to take the role because of the allegations surrounding the film’s director. Eventually, she decided to sign onto the film because she was able to play a character who was also a victim of rape. The character represented all of the voiceless, black women who are raped every day.
After the first week’s flop, the film continued on a downward spiral and at the end of the second week at the box office it brought in just under $3 million. Foxlight Entertainment bought the film because of it’s Oscar potential but seem to have made a poor decision by paying $17.5 million.
Even though the film has technical flaws such as a thinly realized cast and the failure to explore the extent of Turner’s religious convictions, the reason for the disappointing box office failure is simple. Rape.