The Other McCain

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Star and Co-Writer of Slave Revolt Movie Were Accused of Raping Girl in College

Posted on | August 28, 2016 | Comments Off on Star and Co-Writer of Slave Revolt Movie Were Accused of Raping Girl in College

Nate Parker (left) and Jean Celestin (right) were Penn State wrestling teammates.

A much-praised new movie about an 1831 slave revolt, which had been considered a possible Oscar contender, is in trouble because of revelations that the film’s star and director was accused of raping an 18-year-old college student in 1999. Birth of a Nation star Nate Parker was acquitted in that case, but his friend Jean Celestin, who co-wrote the film’s script, was convicted. The victim killed herself four years ago.

Parker and Celestin were college roommates and members of the wrestling team at Pennsylvania State University in August 1999 when, according to court documents, both of them had sex with a freshman girl who had been drinking heavily. A third roommate, Tamerlane Kangas, testified that Parker had a “smirk on his face” when he signalled Kangas and Celestin “to join him when they observed Parker and the woman having sex.” Celestin accepted the invitation, but Kangas declined, later explaining in court: “I didn’t believe that four people at one time was — you know, it didn’t seem right.”

Controversy about the case — which was part of a lawsuit a feminist group filed against Penn State — has engulfed Birth of a Nation this month. The film about the antebellum Nat Turner Rebellion got high praise at the Sundance Film Festival and won a $17.5 million distribution deal from Fox Searchlight, but news accounts of Parker’s role in the 1999 rape have spurred criticism and tarnished the new movie’s prospects.

‘You Put Yourself in That Situation’

The victim in the Penn State case twice attempted suicide in the months after she said Parker and Celestin raped her. When the case finally went to trial, Celestin was convicted, but Parker was acquitted because the victim acknowledged she previously had consensual sex with Parker:

According to Parker’s police statement . . . the sex was consensual and his “ordeal” began on Oct. 13, 1999, when the accuser called him “out of the blue” claiming to be pregnant.
During the phone conversation, the accuser falsely claimed to be pregnant, which she later explained was an attempt to get Parker to identify the third sexual partner in the room that night, according to Deadline. Police later monitored a second call during which both Parker and Celestin admitted to having consensual sex but denied any wrongdoing.
At the end of the first phone call, Parker said he told the accuser, who admitted to raising her voice, “to call me back when you are ready to talk to me like an adult.” Parker then confided in a wrestling coach about the phone call, and was told to be “very nice to her when she [calls] again.” Parker said the coach also warned that “these things come up from time to time with girls who feel guilty … or may even find themselves pregnant with a multiracial child and rejected by their parents.” (The accuser is white and Parker is African-American.) . . .
When she asked how Celestin became involved in the sex, Parker replied that his roommate “was still [in the apartment]” when they were having sex, and that “it started happening and you didn’t do anything to stop it.”
“But Nate, I was so out of it,” she replied. “My whole body was numb, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
When she later complained that the sex had left her with a “bad pelvic infection for a month and a half,” Parker replied, “I’m not … trying to be mean, but I felt like you put yourself in that situation.”

In a 2002 lawsuit, a feminist group accused the university of failing to punish Parker and Celestin, accusing them of harassing the victim:

The Women’s Law Project sued Penn State on behalf of a former female student who went to police in 1999 to say that she was raped by two university wrestlers, identified as Jean Celestin and Nate Parker.
The female student also said the two men began stalking her.
“They followed her. They called her names. They publicized her name. They tortured her. And the school’s response was a slap on the wrist,” said Frietsche.
The university allowed the two men to remain in school and as members of the wresting team under scholarships.
Both men were charged. Parker was acquitted, but a jury found Celestin guilty and he was sentenced to six months in jail after receiving letters of support from university administrators. . . .
The university settled the case with the female student, paying her $17,000.

Negative publicity for Parker’s movie became harsher after the victim’s brother told Variety magazine his sister committed suicide in 2012:

She died at a drug rehabilitation facility, where she was found unresponsive by staff with two 100-count pill bottles of an over-the-counter sleep aid with ingredients similar to Benadryl by her side. “It’s just a horrible life’s progression,” the coroner told Variety. “She was a young woman.”
In court, she testified that she had attempted to kill herself twice after the reported rape. Her brother said that she suffered from depression after the incident. Her death certificate, obtained by Variety, stated that she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse….”
“If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,” [the victim’s brother] Johnny told Variety. He said that prior to entering college, his sister was an outgoing, popular girl who loved animals and school. He envisioned a career in marketing or media for her. “The trial was pretty tough for her,” he said. . . .
“I think by today’s legal standards, a lot has changed with regards to universities and the laws in sexual assault,” he said. “I feel certain if this were to happen in 2016, the outcome would be different than it was. Courts are a lot stricter about this kind of thing. You don’t touch someone who is so intoxicated — period.”
After the trial, the victim left college before graduating, and received a settlement from Penn State of $17,500. “She was trying to find happiness,” Johnny said. “She moved around frequently and tried to hold a job. She had a boyfriend. She gave birth to a young boy. That brought her a good bit of happiness. I think the ghosts continued to haunt her.”

Controversy about the rape accusation prompted the American Film Institute to cancel a planned screening of Parker’s movie “and Oscar voters (and others) are already debating over whether or not to even see the movie. Statements by Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte indicate that some think the resurfacing of allegations and Parker’s subsequent trial are an attempt to suppress [the movie], and to discredit Parker because he is black.” In an attempt to quell the criticism, Parker gave an interview to Variety Aug. 12 in which he said, “I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is … I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

‘A Threesome Is Normal … Fun’ at 19

Those comments, however, only incited further controversy that Parker attempted to address when he gave an exclusive interview to Ebony magazine this week, blaming “male privilege” for his behavior:

When I think about 1999, I think about being a 19-year-old kid, and I think about my attitude and behavior just toward women with respect objectifying them. I never thought about consent as a definition, especially as I do now. I think the definitions of so many things have changed. . . .
Put it this way, when you’re 19, a threesome is normal. 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. . . .
I called a couple of sisters that know that are in the space that talk about the feminist movement and toxic masculinity, and just asked questions. What did I do wrong? Because I was thinking about myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. . . .
What do I need me to do? What do I need to get?
All I can do is seek the information that’ll make me stronger, that’ll help me overcome my toxic masculinity, my male privilege, because that’s something you never think about. You don’t think about other people. It’s the same thing with White Supremacy. Trying to convince someone that they are a racist or they have White Privilege–if it’s in the air they breathe and the culture supports them, sometimes they never have to think about it at all. I recognize as a man there’s a lot of things that I don’t have to think about. But I’m thinking about them now. . . .
I think there is having a behavior that is disrespectful to women that goes unchecked, where your manhood is defined by sexual conquests, where you trade stories with your friends and no one checks anyone. At 19, that was normal. As a 36-year-old man, if I looked at my 19-year-old self as my son, if I could have grabbed him earlier before this incident, or even just going to college. Because for me, it’s about this incident, but it’s about a culture that I never took the time to try to understand. I never examined my role in male culture, in hyper masculinity. I never examined it, nobody ever called me on it.

Four of Parker’s former university classmates released a statement Thursday blaming the charges against him and Celestin on “a violently hostile racial climate that thrived in the Penn State community,” claiming Parker is the target of a “gross and blatant misinformation campaign.”



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