‘Birth of a Nation’ Star Gabrielle Union on Nate Parker: I Cannot Take Allegations Lightly

Actress and rape survivor pens op-ed about sexual violence, misogyny, race

Gabrielle Union wrote a brave op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on Friday, speaking out about her own harrowing experience with rape. In the piece, the actress admits to struggling with the allegations over “Birth of a Nation” writer, director and co-star Nate Parker’s case.

“Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals,” she wrote. “And for some of us the throbbing gets too loud. Post traumatic stress syndrome is very real and chips away at the soul and sanity of so many of us who have survived sexual violence.”

Parker was accused and acquitted of rape 17 years ago. Four years ago, his accuser committed suicide.

Union, who plays a rape survivor in “Birth,” just learned of the allegations this summer. It was shocking to her, to say the least.

“Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” she wrote.

“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,” Union wrote. “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,” she added. “That’s why education on this issue is so vital.”

“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,” Union admitted. “Nor does anyone who was not in that room.”

The wife and mother also acknowledged racial lines underlying within the issue, and the importance of parents to educate their children.

“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,” she said. “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,” Union went on. “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.’”

Union is married to NBA star Dwyane Wade. Read her full op-ed here.