Nate Parker, director of the forthcoming film The Birth of the Nation, has been refreshingly close-lipped for the past couple weeks. Until now.
On Saturday, Parker gave an interview to Ebony, his first since the saga of former rape allegations against him resurfaced earlier this month. On August 16, the older brother of the alleged victim told Variety that she had died in 2012 at the age of 30 from an overdose of sleeping pills. The woman had accused Parker and his roommate at the time, Jean Celestin (also a co-writer on The Birth of a Nation) of raping her in 1999 while they were students at Penn State.
Parker was acquitted of the charge in 2001. Celestin was sentenced to six months in prison, having been found guilty of sexual assault. Celestin’s verdict was later appealed, and Celestin was given a new trial in 2005, which never materialized since the victim decided not to testify.
Parker’s only other public comment since news of the victim’s death came to light has been a Facebook post, in which he maintained that the sex he had with the alleged victim was consensual, and that he is innocent of any crime. “I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow,” Parker wrote.
In his new interview with Ebony, Parker seems to walk back claims he made in that Facebook post that the encounter was “unambiguously consensual.”
Indeed, according to Parker, he was not even clear at the time of the incident on the meaning of sexual consent. “I never thought about consent as a definition, especially as I do now,” Parker told Ebony. “I think the definitions of so many things have changed.”
Asked what consent did mean to him then, Parker responded:
“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…. Back then it felt like…I’ll say this: at 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go?”
On his understanding of sexual consent today, Parker says, “I’m learning, still. I’m 36-years-old and I’m learning about definitions that I should have known when I started having sex.”
And while we’re on the subject of learning things, Parker also admitted that when he wrote the initial Facebook post, a whole two weeks ago, he, “never took a moment to think about the woman.”
No doubt many moments from this interview will also be instructive to Parker.