Nate Parker Seeks A Way Forward, Mo’Nique… Not So Much


In August of 2016, Nate Parker was sitting on top of the world. The film project he co-produced, co-wrote, directed, and starred in, “Birth of a Nation,” had been a huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival, being purchased for a record amount. It was also a front-runner for the Oscar Awards, particularly in lieu of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign since the 2016 Oscar Awards which were almost a total whiteout in all the major categories.

Mo’Nique… won an Oscar for her performance in “Precious” in 2010, expecting it would propel her into perpetual starring roles and the kind of career that comes with the lead-in, “Oscar Winning Actress, Mo’Nique!”


For Nate Parker, news of a rape allegation from his college days at Penn State for which he stood trial and was found not-guilty, derailed all his hopes. Birth of a Nation ended up getting zero Oscar nominations and did poorly at the box office despite all the hype that preceded the revival of rape allegations. Nat himself almost disappeared from sight, publicly denounced by one of his co-stars, Gabrielle Union, who had been a victim of rape years earlier.


Mo’Nique, found herself not getting any of the types of roles she expected, not understanding why, until she got a call from director Lee Daniels informing her, “Mo’Nique, you’ve been blackballed.”

To be certain, despite the fact that Nate Parker was found, “Not Guilty.” He was not innocent. At best, the following was true of Parker:

1. Parker had sex with the woman the day before

2. Parker invited “Birth of a Nation” writing partner Jean Celestin and another man (who declined) to participate in a sex act with the woman whose level of impairment is in dispute.

3. After being charged, Parker and Celestin publicly named the alleged victim.

4. For years afterward, Parker and Celestin harassed the alleged victim.

5. The woman committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.

For all practical purposes Parker disappeared for almost two years but has now found what he hopes to be the road back.

Monique won her Oscar in 2010. Since then she’s appeared in films you’ve likely never heard of; Steppin: The Movie, Interwoven, and Almost Christmas. Among reasons Monique was given for being blackballed was that she didn’t promote “Precious” during Awards Season. She refused to fly to Cannes, France to do Sundance, she didn’t do interviews, she was difficult, making unreasonable demands. In response to being blackballed, she blasted Lee Daniels, Oprah, Tyler Perry, and she was just getting started. One might reasonably consider whether sexism and/or racism was involved in her being blacklisted. One might also wonder if she was stepping into the role of the angry black woman?


Nate Parker is coming back with a new project, “Baselines,” about a Los Angeles black family trying to protect a superstar high school basketball player with NBA potential from all the pitfalls surrounding him. Parker will be writing and directing the short-form digital series in hopes it will get picked up by a major network. He is currently casting the project and looks to begin filming this week.

Mo’Nique is still mad. She recently, unsuccessfully, called for a boycott of Netflix, claiming they lowballed her in an offer on a project, especially when compared to offers made to Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle. When Schumer learned of Rock’s and Chappelle’s pay, she was able to negotiate an increase for herself. When Mo’nique attempted the same, Netflix said, “No.”

The approaches in their attempted comebacks is dramatically different. Parker still may find resistance from the #MeToo movement which may reject any attempt to return. Mo’Nique doesn’t appear to have much of a strategy other than getting even. Some suggest she’s being mismanaged by husband, Sidney Hicks. She might find her way forward would be easier emulating Parker. Find a project, promote it, let your talent shine through.

Review: Birth of a Nation

I got around to seeing, “Birth of a Nation” today. In what might well be the last week it was showing. I had the whole place to myself during a matinee showing.

I had been “spoiled” by the reviews. I knew of the criticisms of historians. I was aware of how certain scenes appeared to others but decided to see and judge for myself. Of course, I’m aware of the Nate Parker controversy including the recent allegation he exposed himself to a woman. That incident by the way reminded me much of a similar allegation against Peyton Manning which blew over in about a week. One can still find Peyton doing commercials on TV, quite unscathed. I’ve written before about Nate Parker. I now write about the movie.

a nate parker

What affected me most was not the brutality and inhumanity of slavery. How black women were raped and taken at the whim of their owners, sometimes given as gifts. I had seen whippings on film before. What struck me most was two lines of dialogue. Nat’s friend came to him shortly after the back to back to back to back rape of his wife, seeing his friend’s wife given away to a guest for a few hours, experiencing a brutal lashing and the death of his grandmother. The two lines were.

“You alright?”

“Mostly”

From that point on in the movie I thought about how black people go through life in America. Not just in Virginia in 1831 but in 2016 everywhere. Doing alright… mostly. You see we’re constantly reminded of that which has changed little since that time. Back then a white man, sometimes using the authority of the slave patrol sometimes not. Could kill a black person with little regard for consequences. The same thing can happen in any American city whether it be by a duly authorized lawman or a citizen standing his ground. What the law actually says means little when it’s constantly interpreted to serve one group over another.

I watched Nat Turner as preacher whose designated role was to pacify black slaves to keep them from rebelling. He was literally driven to nearby plantations to deliver a message of obedience and compliance. Reciting approved bible passages under the watchful eye of the master. I’ve written about their contemporaries as well.

I had my own concerns about the historical portrayal of the real Nat Turner rebellion. I think they underplayed the role of the slave patrols. Membership wasn’t limited to the lowlifes as shown in the film but all able-bodied white men took their turn keeping slaves in check. I also think the movie made the rebellion seem somehow small. There was no mention of the deep impact it had throughout the South making real the fear of a black man.

As I watched, I translated the macro-aggressions of then to the micro-aggressions of today which are no less common or accepted. I didn’t leave thinking how bad things were then. But how much has changed little. To those who chose not to see this film at the theaters and support the star/director. I understand. Catch it on cable when it gets there. It’s still an important contribution to our understanding.

Nate Parker: Victim?

 

 

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:

  1. Parker had sex with the woman the day before
  2. Parker invited Celestin and another man (who declined) to participate in a sex act with the woman whose level of impairment is in dispute.
  3. After being charged, Parker and Celestin publicly named the alleged victim.
  4. For years afterward, Parker and Celestin harassed the alleged victim.
  5. 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.