Fox Searchlight is standing behind Nate Parker — the writer, director and star of its award-season hopeful “The Birth of a Nation” — in the face of media reports about a 1999 rape case from his time as a student at Penn State University.
“Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State,” the studio said in a statement on Tuesday. “We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”
Parker’s vision of Nat Turner’s historic slave rebellion in 1831 netted him universal praise at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and an historic $17.5 million acquisitions price tag from Fox Searchlight.
The resurfacing of the incident from Parker’s past thus comes at an awkward time as his movie gears up for a roll-out to media and awards voters, with a planned appearance at next month’s Toronto Film Festival.
A studio rep confirmed that it still plans to bring Parker to Toronto and have him actively promoting the film there.
Parker was acquitted of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old female student in 2001.
But his close friend and “Birth” co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin was convicted of sexually assaulting the same woman in the incident, and was sentenced to six months in jail. Celestin later appealed the verdict, but the unnamed woman reportedly would not return to testify in the case so charges were dropped.
The woman accuser died in 2012 in an apparent suicide, according to media reports.