Birth of a Nation actor, director, and producer Nate Parker on Friday gave his most candid interview since rape allegations against him resurfaced this month in the mainstream media.
Parker spoke with Ebony magazine shortly after a screening of Birth of a Nation, which chronicles the life of Nat Turner and the historic slave rebellion he led, at the Merge Summit in Los Angeles on Friday.
The filmmaker and a friend, Birth of a Nation screenwriter Jean Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow Penn State student in 1999. While Parker was acquitted, Celestin was convicted, but later had his conviction overturned. News of the controversy roared back into the headlines in recent weeks amid anticipation of the film's release.
Parker had been criticized for two previous interviews he gave to Variety and Deadline that centered on the rape trial, and acknowledged Friday he had been speaking "speaking from a standpoint of ignorance."
“When I was first met with the news that this part of my past had come up, my knee-jerk reaction was selfish," he said. "I wasn’t thinking about even the potential hurt of others; I was thinking about myself."
Ebony senior digital editor Britni Danielle, who interviewed Parker, tweeted that her primary goal in the interview was to get him to elaborate on how he sees consent now compared to when he was 19 years old.
The 36-year-old admitted that when he was a teenager he had not once considered the definition of consent:
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? If I touch her breast and she’s down for me to touch her breast, cool. If I touch her lower, and she’s down and she’s not stopping me, cool. I’m going to kiss her or whatever. It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent.
Let me be the first to say, I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But, if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged–and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general.
He also said that when he gave the Variety and Deadline interviews, he was not aware that the woman who accused him of rape in 1999 had since committed suicide.
According to Parker, “at the time of those two interviews — and one really just bit off the other — I didn’t know the status of the women. I didn’t know. I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong. I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was I’m innocent and everyone needs to know.”
“I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second,” he added. [Emphasis was added in the original story.]
In reference to the rape allegation, Parker admitted that he “engaged in hyper-male culture” and is making efforts to learn how to be a better ally to women.
Listen to me when I say I’m understanding that I’m dealing with a problem, like an addiction. Just like you can be addicted to White Supremacy and all of the benefits, you can be addicted to male privilege and all of the benefits that comes from it. It’s like someone pointing at you and you have a stain on your shirt and you don’t even know it.
Parker also addressed comments he made in 2014 that targeted the LGBT community. Specifically, he said that he would never play a gay character or wear a dress on screen in order to “preserve the black man.”
“The fact that I said I wouldn’t wear a dress, or that I’m not interested in gay roles, I can see now that was being exclusionary,” he said. “And guess what? I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everyone who ever read similar comments or just got wind that something was said.”
“I’m not perfect, I’m a flawed man, but I’m willing to try to get better, I’m willing to listen. I’m willing to take input from people who are living it everyday,” he said.
Read the full Ebony interview here.