I recently posted an article on my Facebook page by Morgan Jenkins, a Black woman on Why the Debate Over Nate Parker Is So Complex? I posted it without comment of my own but was perplexed at the comments of others. Some of whom I am typically in agreement on many other issues.
There are many legitimate questions as to whether the timing of the attacks on Nate Parker’s character are designed to limit the impact of an important film, “The Birth of a Nation” that will make some people uncomfortable? The original article discusses the unique position Black women find themselves in being torn between supporting the Black men involved and ignoring the situation that this time involves a White woman but could easily have been them.
Nate Parker was acquitted of rape charges in 2001, reportedly because he and the woman had sex the day before. His writing partner on The Birth of a Nation, Jean Celestin, was initially found guilty of sexual assault but the case was dismissed on appeal because the alleged victim refused to testify again. In the film, there is a scene where we are supposed to feel some kind of way about the vicious rape of Nat Turner’s wife by a group of white men. We are apparently supposed to feel a different kind of way about this situation where much of what we do know is not in dispute. This discussion comes at the same time when some of the same people defending Parker, are lambasting Ryan Lochte as the beneficiary of White Privilege, Athlete Privilege (Parker and Celestin were on the Penn State wrestling team) and a patriarchal system where “boys will be boys.”
Despite the acquittal of Nate Parker and the dismissal of charges against Jean Celestin. There is much about their behavior that seems not to be in dispute:
- Parker had sex with the woman the day before
- Parker invited Celestin and another man (who declined) to participate in a sex act with the woman whose level of impairment is in dispute.
- After being charged, Parker and Celestin publicly named the alleged victim.
- For years afterward, Parker and Celestin harassed the alleged victim.
- The woman committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.
What I find unacceptable in the discussion I’ve witnessed is the view that he’s not guilty, end of story. Parker was found not guilty of the criminal charge but I find much with which I find fault. I also find it disturbing (despite historical abuse) that the race of the victim is an excuse to ignore what we do know which is an argument more likely to be used against Black people than in support of them. There are those unwilling to examine the thought process that would have a man invite his friends to have sex with a woman? I understand there are possible consensual situations, I get that. I’m still able to have the discussion when some of my friends are not.
I deviate now to what I believe to be true. I think Nate Parker and Jean Celestin don’t consider themselves rapists or believe themselves to have done anything wrong. I think the combination of male privilege and their status as athletes along with their limited respect for the female body made them think this was okay. I can remember once in high school being invited to join in when some of my friends were “pulling a train” on a female student. Another time in college, a fellow basketball player invited me to have sex with a woman he had in his room indicating “she was ready.” I refused both times, much more because I was scared than being morally offended at the prospect. The outcome I’d like to see from the Nate Parker discussion is that we teach our boys what is acceptable in the same way we tell our girls what not to do. I encourage those who defend these men 100%, to explain to their daughters the basis for their feelings. There is wrong here which should not be ignored.
Lastly, is it possible to support the movie and it’s message without consideration of the acts of its creators? I personally plan to see the movie but completely understand any that choose not to. I also plan to keep alive the discussion and hope there are lessons that can be learned, as long as we don’t refuse to talk about it. I agree with Morgan Jenkins, it is complex.