Gabrielle Union Speaks Out About Nate Parker’s Rape Allegations


This week, Gabrielle Union published a piece in the L.A. Times about Nate Parker’s past rape allegations.

It’s difficult to imagine being in Gabrielle Union’s shoes right now.

The Birth of a Nation, Union’s next film, is coming out in October.  The film, which premiered at Sundance and subsequently landed the biggest distribution deal in the history of the festival, tells story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion of 1831 and is being widely heralded as a bold and brutally honest look at the black history of America.  Its writer, director, and star Nate Parker was on track to being the most exciting new voice in American cinema in decades.  And then, the rape allegations against him resurfaced.

When Parker was in college at Penn State in 1999, he and Jean Celestin, who co-wrote The Birth of a Nation, were charged with raping an 18-year-old woman in their apartment while she was unconscious.  The men maintained that the encounter was consensual, but Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison.  He appealed and was granted a new trial, but the victim refused to testify a second time and the case never made it to court.  Parker was acquitted, primarily on the grounds that he and the victim had had consensual sex before.

Nate Parker (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

The situation is complicated.  Because the trial happened seventeen years ago.  Because Parker and Celestin were valuable members of the wrestling team.  Because they were black men accused of raping a white woman.  Because the victim committed suicide in 2012.  Because The Birth of a Nation promises to be such a socially critical film.  Because Parker owes his acquittal to a victim-blaming jury.  Because every time Parker addresses the media about this, he gives self-centered half-apologies, including describing the rape as a “very painful experience” for himself and admitting that since the accusation he “hadn’t thought about it at all.”

It’s even more complicated for Gabrielle Union, which is why she published a piece in the L.A. Times.  Union discusses how it feels to hear this news as a rape survivor who plays a rape survivor in the film.  She says, “I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power.”

Union’s op-ed falls short of condemning Parker, but rather focuses on condemnation of rape culture and toxic masculinity.  She specifies that, even after reading the entire 700-page transcript of the trial, it’s impossible to know what really happened.  But seeing her speak out about this issue sends an important message to everyone struggling with the allegations.

“I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence…I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary.” – Gabrielle Union, The L.A. Times

For a woman who worked with Parker on his ground-breaking film to encourage critical discussion of his rape allegations shines a legitimizing light on the issue of sexual assault as it relates to artists.  Union does not ask us to separate Nate Parker’s art from his actions.  In fact, she does not do so herself.  For an actress to be critical of the director of her own upcoming film, rather than being silent or brushing it aside as unrelated to the work, is endlessly meaningful.

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You can read the entire text of Gabrielle Union’s piece in the L.A. Times here.