It has been a number of years since I learned that the director/writer of some of my favorite films allegedly molested his then-wife’s child. It shook my naive view of creators as inherently good, moral people.
I initially held the belief that art is separated from the artist. I have since stopped believing that, but I realize that at this point it seems to be a matter of preference, and really not important when considering allegations of rape and sexual assault in normal or celebrity life.
Recently, “The Birth of a Nation” was released at Sundance Film Festival, to much critical acclaim, and was eventually acquired for a record breaking $17.5 million. The film is set for wide release in America in October.
The film’s creator, Nate Parker, came under scrutiny for a rape allegation from 1999 after the films release. The details of the incident, the events leading up to the alleged encounter, the outcome of the resulting court proceedings and ultimately whether or not he did it, are all up for debate.
What is known is the way in which Parker handled the incident in interviews and through social media. Parker constantly made it clear that the alleged incident and court proceedings took place 17 years ago. And that he was a father. And that he is deeply devastated by the outcry against him for something that happened to him 17 years ago, a father nonetheless.
This is similar to the case with Woody Allen. Allegations were made against both of them, but instead of recognizing the issue, they both dismissed the alleged victims and posed themselves as the victims.
Actions like these can be seen as PR strategies or desperate reactions, but in the end they are actions that discredit victims everywhere and make it much harder for victims of any kind of sexual assault to speak out. Neither director recognized the incident without some level of victimization on their part, or without using serious amounts of deflection.
The issue of watchability for “The Birth of a Nation” is up to the prospective viewer.
Of course, one has to take into account the political weight the film carries, portraying Nat Turner’s 1831 slave uprising in this era’s climate of race politics. But one shouldn’t disregard Parker’s statements in favor of one hot button political movement. Parker’s transgressions, as far as furthering negative views of victims, go as well as people’s ability to evade accusation by doing so should not be overshadowed by one piece of art, no matter how culturally relevant.
I will say, however, that in this case public outcry has actually given Parker some perspective. In an interview with Ebony, Parker spoke about how he has learned about issues of consent and sexual assault, and how his statements were selfish. No longer does he simply portray himself as a person above rape allegations. Parker shows remorse and seems to have a deeper understanding of what the ramification of his actions might be.
Unlike Allen, who has never apologized and has repeatedly accused Dylan Farrow of lying about the accused rape, it seems that Parker is learning from his actions as everyone should.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.