Nobody cares about Nate Parker anymore. Unless you count film critics and culture commentators who have chosen him as their favorite whipping boy to take out their frustrations about patriarchy, toxic masculinity and unsettled scores in the gender wars. The fact that Nate Parker himself has nothing to do with those demons haunting American culture in general or the entertainment industry in particular is of no consequence. Nate was the very first casualty of the “Cancel Culture”- the Crispus Attucks of the #MeToo War. Those forces are not about to turn him loose. But I care about Nate Parker and I am advocating for his freedom. It is time. He should not have suffered at all but even if he had done anything wrong, he has suffered enough.
Nate’s crime against mankind was that he failed to adequately apologize for a crime that he did not commit. You read that right. Nate Parker was tried and found not guilty on rape allegations made against him twenty years ago. Then he was asked about the case many years later, and like any innocent man would, he refused to issue an apology to anybody. What for? And how would that go: “I am really sorry that I got accused and acquitted of a crime I knew I did not commit“? Why should Nate have apologized for something that he always maintained he did not do and was legally found not to have done?
But that did not matter. The high-tech lynch mob had already started to surround Nate and if you know anything about the history of lynching in America, you know that nobody standing alone can fend off the mob once surrounded. That also goes for high-tech lynchings where a man’s character and career are tortured, broken and killed rather than his body. Recall that in the fall of 2016, Nate Parker was less than a week away from the release of his seminal film The Birth of A Nation. It had won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the most prestigious U.S. Dramatic Jury Award. A black film maker had never won both of those awards at the same festival. This movie was a very big deal. The distribution rights for the film were purchased by Fox Searchlight for a record seventeen million dollars. The buzz around Nate was so loud I doubt he could hear himself think as the world was anxiously awaiting the release of his searing opus on the under-told story of the 1831 Virginia slave rebellion led by Nat Turner.
Just then the ground started to quake under Nate’s feet as the zeitgeist filled up with the story of his rape trial during his sophomore year at Penn State. Then Gabrielle Union- who had a role in The Birth of a Nation– wrote an op-ed in The LA Times detailing her own rape as a teen and the complex feelings she was having about supporting Nate or his film. That was the kill shot: the ground opened up under Nate’s feet and he fell into a black hole- taking his movie and his future with him. After historic victories at the Sundance Film Festival, The Birth of a Nation could not even win an NAACP or BET award. Critics followed the mob and picked over Nate’s bones. They suddenly found fault with his movie and downgraded it as fully as they could get away with. It tanked, and Nate was gone.
After three years in professional purgatory, Nate Parker has lifted himself up. Against long odds he just finished his second feature film American Skin and the subject matter is both timely and compelling: a black youth is killed by white police officers who are exonerated at trial. The young man’s father takes the entire courthouse hostage and forces a retrial at gun-point. Think Denzel Washington’s John Q meets Howard Rollins, Jr.’s Coalhouse Walker Jr. from Ragtime. In any case it sounds compelling enough that some of us might like to see it. But the lynch mob is back and no distributor will touch Nate’s new movie. And why would they risk their own troops and treasure fighting this losing battle? The critics have been assailing his film with such venom and zeal that the agenda is self-evident: ensure the failure of this project so the world knows that Nate can never come back. For Nate’s part, he is being mocked for issuing a statement that he does not care about critics- that as an artist he just wants to put out work that can help uplift consciousness of those who see it.
This has to stop. It is entirely unacceptable for a man to be intentionally and permanently marginalized over mere allegations- especially when there has been a legal determination that the allegations were false. I do not know what happened in that dorm room that night between Nate and the young woman who accused him of rape- but I DO know that whatever happened was determined not to be a crime. Either we have courts of law that issue judgments on guilt or we have some form of mob rule. As a black man in America I certainly have my issues with courts of law but I have a great deal more faith in them than I have in mob rule. It would be one thing if Nate were some wealthy superstar with all of those privileges when he stood trial but that is not the case. He was a 19 year old kid- probably scared out of his mind- who survived the ordeal of a criminal trial. And after that, by all accounts, Nate Parker never did anything to any woman that indicated bad behavior. Not when he was shooting the Great Debaters with Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker; not when he was shooting Pride with Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac; not when he was shooting Red Tails with Bryan Cranston and Michael B. Jordan; not when he was shooting The Secret Life of Bees with Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys. In sum, the man’s record is clean.
Unless of course you count his failure to apologize. Evidently that made him dirty and untouchable. Accordingly, he should never be able to succeed again in his chosen field regardless of his skill or the value of his work. He should be banished to the dust-bin of history and rot there- right along with the men who actually DID apologize because they actually DID do something wrong. Enough, people. Enough. Free Nate Parker and stop this madness.