The Birth of a Nation: Fox 'scrambling' after paying $17.5m for movie made by team embroiled in rape case

The film's lead actor, writer and director was accused of rape in 1999

Jacob Stolworthy
Wednesday 17 August 2016 12:25

The release of The Birth of a Nation has been thrown into question following an interview which saw the film's lead star and director Nate Parker discuss a rape trial he was involved in as a student.

Fox Searchlight acquired the film - focused on the 1831 slave revolt led by Nat Turner - for a record-breaking $17.5 million following its debut at Sundance Film Festival in January and were hoping to release it in the height of awards season.

Now, the distributor is said to be taking a 'wait and see' approach believing Parker's history, discussed with Variety, may disrupt the planned release schedule which would have seen the African-American filmmaker visit church groups and college campuses to promote the film he's also written and produced.

Birth of a Nation Trailer 2

Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin - The Birth of a Nation 's co-writer - were accused of raping the 18-year-old woman while she was unconscious when studying at Penn State in 1999.

The claim also suggested Parker and Celestin stalked the woman after she reported the incident to the police.

While Parker was acquitted in 2000, Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison (he later appealed the verdict and a second trial was thrown out due to the victim's inability to testify again).

Both of the accused were suspended from the wrestling team and Parker went on to transfer to Oklahoma. The woman dropped out of college and, following her refusal to testify at Celestin's appeal, settled a $17,500 payout with Penn State.

In a statement, the studio said: “Fox Searchlight is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”

Parker has spent seven years trying to get The Birth of a Nation made, even reportedly investing $100,000 into the $10 million budget - something which paid off following the standing ovations received at the film's Sundance premiere earlier this year.

Fox Searchlight - who were banking on this being a critical, commercial and awards favourite in the year following the controversial #OscarsSoWhite campaign - are set to be rethinking their strategy in the fear Parker's past could dissuade many from seeing the film.

The Birth of a Nation is slated to arrive in UK cinemas on 20 January; the film also stars Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union.

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