RFU statement on The Birth of a Nation screening at TIFF

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival will screen the film The Birth of a Nation by Nate Parker, who was charged with rape in 1999.

As reported in CBC News:

“The allegation dates back to 1999, when Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin  — who has a story credit on The Birth of a Nation — were charged with raping an 18-year-old student when they were studying at Penn State. Parker was 19 years old at the time.

The woman said she was unconscious and didn’t consent to the sex. Parker testified that he and the woman had previously had sex and Celestin maintained it was consensual.

Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, but that was later overturned when the woman opted not to testify again for a 2005 retrial. She sued Penn State and was awarded a settlement out of court.

The case came into the spotlight after Variety reported the woman committed suicide at the age of 30 in 2012.

When asked if he thought about the incident over the last 17 years, he said he “hadn’t thought about it at all.”

We provided a statement to a journalist who inquired if this situation was on our radar, and here is the statement we wrote:

The matter is on our radar in that it is business as usual in a patriarchal society. You can add Nate Parker to the long list of men for whom committing rape or domestic violence was no obstacle to their success (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown, Jian Ghomeshi, and recently Johnny Depp, to name a very few). Our position is that the asymmetry between the frequency of sexual violence and the scant justice for victims is an indictment of the way society views women. Certainly, there is some outrage after accounts of sexual violence surface, but it is nothing but a minor nuisance to these men who are not only defended but even celebrated by the Arts community and the wider public.  In reality, it is often the victims who suffer in the long term due to harassment and retraumatization when they go public with their stories.
The media is sanitizing Parker’s history of sexual violence by using obfuscating words like “controversial,” “dark,” and “painful,” to describe his past. TIFF disingenuously defended their decision to screen the film on the grounds that controversial and provocative subject matter is what the Arts are all about. But what is up for debate is not the story in the film- which does, of course, have value- it is the story of the filmmaker, being swept under the rug by those who have invested in the film.
While it would be ideal for TIFF to cancel the screening to show solidarity with women, the AFI’s cancellation of the screening has turned out to be nothing but an empty gesture, considering they plan to go forward with screening the film at a later date anyway (once outrage has inevitably died down). This allows them to appear socially conscious but still benefit financially from the situation. Whatever TIFF’s decision, the root of the problem remains the grounds on which Parker’s conviction failed. Ultimately, our concern lies more with this fact than whether or not a film screens at a film festival.
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