Okay, an overview: Nate Parker was charged and put on trial for rape in 1999. The details of the case were always public record, but following the Sundance premiere of Parker’s film, The Birth of a Nation, the studio hoped to put Parker front and center of an Oscar campaign…which means the guy had to be avilable for press, which means he had to talk about 1999. And it was NOT pretty. The last interview was the one he did with Ebony more than a week ago, and it was disgusting. His responses keep getting worse and worse.
Gabrielle Union has a small but important role in the film, and has spoken publicly before about how she was raped when she was a teenager, and now Union has finally spoken out. She wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, which you can read in its entirety here. She writes about her own rape and how conflicted she is about Parker’s past. How black women in particular are voiceless in discussions about sexual assault, consent and more. Then she counters with what is basically an argument for what she is doing personally, and how she will approach the conversations around this film:
As important and ground-breaking as this film is, 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.
As a black woman raising brilliant, handsome, talented young black men, I am cognizant of my responsibility to them and their future. My husband 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. To that end, we are making an effort to teach our sons about affirmative consent. We explain that the onus is on them to explicitly ask if their partner consents. And we tell them that a shrug or a smile or a sigh won’t suffice. They have to hear “yes.”
Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know. Nor does anyone who was not in that room. But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize.
I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence. To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary. Think of all the victims who, like my character, are silent. The girls sitting in their dorm rooms, scared to speak up. The wife who is abused by her husband. The woman attacked in an alley. The child molested. Countless souls broken from trans-violence attacks. It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real. Sexual violence happens more often than anyone can imagine. And if the stories around this film do not prove and emphasize this, then I don’t know what does.
It is my hope that we can use this as an opportunity to look within. To open up the conversation. To reach out to organizations which are working hard to prevent these kinds of crimes. And to support its victims. To donate time or money. To play an active role in creating a ripple that will change the ingrained misogyny that permeates our culture. And to eventually wipe the stain clean.
I think Union is in a difficult position. She’s proud of her work in the film and she genuinely wants to be part of a larger dialogue about sexual violence and rape… but she’s definitely giving Parker the benefit of the doubt, regardless of his own pretty terrible foot to mouthing (to say the least). Would it be satisfying to see Union break professional ties with Parker publicly? Yes. But she isn’t, and her words are going to be buried once Parker opens his big, rapist mouth again. UGH.