'Birth Of A Nation' Star Gabrielle Union Pens Powerful Op-Ed On Nate Parker Controversy
Sundance darling and early Oscar contender The Birth of a Nation has been steeped in controversy since 1999 rape allegations against its filmmaker and star Nate Parker resurfaced last month. A screening of the movie at the American Film Institute, which was slated to be Parker's first public event since the scandal broke, was cancelled last week. The discourse is complicated by the fact that the African American filmmaker has been, to quote the New York Times, "positioned as a balm for an industry long criticized for sidelining minorities."
Now actress Gabrielle Union, a rape survivor and one of the movie's stars, has spoken out on the matter, penning a potent L.A. Times op-ed addressing her own anguish and "stomach-churning confusion" over the situation.
"As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly," she writes, capturing the sentiments of many. She captures the turmoil of her uncertainty ("Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago...I still don’t actually know.") and powerfully recounts her own deeply painful experience of sexual violence, and how it figured into her taking the part.
Twenty-four years ago, Union was raped at gunpoint in the back of the shoe store where she worked. Her character in Birth of a Nation is also the victim of rape, something which she says drew her to the role:
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. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.
Union also stresses the importance of affirmative consent, addressing the fact that whether or not Parker may have thought he had his date's consent, "by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said 'no,' silence certainly does not equal 'yes.'"
There are no easy answers here, and Union gracefully avoids any pat summations or simplifications. Instead, she asks the reader to transcend the specific incident at hand, and look more broadly at the culture in which it resides:
It is my hope that we can use this as an opportunity to look within. To open up the conversation. To reach out to organizations which are working hard to prevent these kinds of crimes. And to support its victims. To donate time or money. To play an active role in creating a ripple that will change the ingrained misogyny that permeates our culture. And to eventually wipe the stain clean.
Union's piece has garnered wide press attention, along with a clamoring of support on social media:
Has anyone *ever* done what Gabrielle Union did, calling out their director in an award-bait film prior to opening like that? She is so rad.— Marlow Stern (@MarlowNYC) September 2, 2016