Nate Parker hoped his drama about an 1831 slave rebellion would generate Oscar buzz. But talk about The Birth of a Nation—which Fox Searchlight bought for a record $17.5 million after its Sundance premiere—has suddenly taken a turn. As the New York Times recounts, the first-time director was accused of raping a woman while a student at Penn State in 1999, though he was eventually acquitted. It's old news, but it became big news this week when Variety revisited the case and reported for the first time that the woman involved took her own life in 2012 at age 30. The woman, who received a $17,500 settlement from Penn State, had said Parker and his roommate, Jean Celestin, raped her while she was drunk and unconscious. Parker and Celestin said the sex was consensual.
Parker was acquitted in 2001, while Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, a ruling that was later overturned. Another factor in the controversy: Celestin co-wrote The Birth of a Nation, which includes a gang rape as a pivotal scene. With talk of a boycott growing, Parker is not shying away from the controversy, notes the Los Angeles Times. In a Facebook post, he expressed his "profound sorrow" upon learning of the suicide. Parker also says he welcomes discussion of the case, noting "violence against women is not taken seriously enough. And the dialogue and the discourse isn't loud enough." But "I was cleared of everything. At some point I have to ask myself, 'How often am I willing to relive it?'"