“Birth of a Nation” director Nate Parker says in an interview with Ebony that his awareness and consciousness about consent have changed since he was acquitted of rape while a college student.
The discussion of his upcoming film, about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, has been largely sidelined by debate about the case, which involved Parker, “Birth” co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin and a female student at Penn State University. Parker was acquitted of sexual assault in 2001 and the charges against Celestin were eventually dropped.
“Let me be the first to say, I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid,” he told Ebony. “I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But, if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged — and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general.”
After giving two initial interviews and sharing his feelings in a Facebook post, Parker went silent on the matter. But in the Ebony interview, he talked about how his perspectives and understanding have changed in the years since, in which he became an actor, filmmaker, and husband and father.
“When you’re 19, a threesome is normal,” he said. “It’s fun. When you’re 19, getting a girl to say yes, or being a dog, or being a player, cheating. Consent is all about — for me, back then — if you can get a girl to say yes, you win.”
He said many definitions and expectations around consent have changed since he was in college.
“I’ll say this: At 19, if a woman said no, no meant no,” Parker told Ebony. “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.”
Parker also said his initial comments about the case were self-centered, and that he has reached out to women in his life for guidance. He talked about avoiding “toxic masculinity.”
“Honestly, when I started reading them comments I had to call some people and say, ‘What did I do wrong? What did I say wrong?'” he said.
Parker wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 16: “I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community — and will continue to do this to the best of my ability. All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.”
The post went up on the same day the brother of the woman who accused Parker and Celestin of rape told Variety that she had committed suicide in 2012.