From The Atlantic:
Why the Debate Over Nate Parker Is So ComplexPresumably, Morgan Jerkins is a black woman, so she reasons, according to the theory of intersectionality, that she deserves more Diversity Pokemon Points than Nate Parker does. Why did he get $17.5 million for being oppressed by whites when she is oppressed by both whites and by patriarchy? Morgan is entitled to $35.0 million.
The discussion over how to parse the filmmaker in light of a sexual-assault trial 17 years ago is particularly difficult for black women.
MORGAN JERKINS 8:00 AM ET CULTURE
At first, it seemed as though Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation couldn’t have come at a better time. In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite activism and the rapid expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement, a film about Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion that examined the history and power of black liberation seemed to be just the story America needed to see. When Fox Searchlight purchased the global rights to the movie at the Sundance Film Festival for $17.5 million—a new record for the event—Parker’s ascendancy seemed unstoppable. Excitement rose among black filmgoers for the film’s October release, while Parker seemed like a significant new presence in both the film and activism worlds. Unfortunately, the promise of both him and his movie appears now to be too good to be true.
Over the past few weeks, debate has swirled around the fact that Parker was accused of raping a female student in 1999 along with his writing partner on The Birth of a Nation, Jean Celestin, while all three were enrolled at Penn State. The victim also stated that both Parker and Celestin continually harassed her after she reported the crime. In 2001, Parker was acquitted on the grounds that he and the woman had had sexual relations before the alleged rape. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison, but he appealed, and the case was dismissed in 2005. This week, Variety reported that the woman involved killed herself in 2012, at the age of 30.
Within the black community, these revelations have provoked sharp debate and sour feelings. Parker’s movie concerns itself with black liberation, but the question of who gets to be the herald of this mobilization has long been a contested issue. In this sense, Parker’s personal life is inextricable from the message of The Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner is a symbol of liberation through rebellion and Nate Parker has chosen himself to be the vessel through which to tell this story. But the revelations around his personal history illuminate the extent to which this liberation isn’t and hasn’t been equal for black men and women. Parker’s history of Nat Turner revolves around a particularly powerful presentation of black masculinity—one that reflects how the subject of liberation so often puts black women in a difficult bind.
… Both the case of Nate Parker and the current commentary surrounding his life and work reveal how patriarchy is as much an intraracial issue as it is a problem outside of the black community. The push to protect Nate Parker is based on the fact that he’s trying to uplift black people through The Birth of a Nation, but what if that comes at the expense of black women?It’s not really that complex: Hollywood has chosen Nate Parker to lecture white people on how their ancestors abused blacks, yet he and his writing partner personally abused a white woman.
… In October, filmgoers will have to decide for themselves whether the importance of the movie’s achievements in telling Nat Turner’s story supersedes the scandal surrounding its creator. But for black women, this decision is an impossibly complex one. There can be no true black liberation without acknowledgment of how black women’s issues are often pushed to the side to facilitate black men’s protection. Because this pattern persists, there needs to be a upheaval of another kind within our community—one that is not rebellion, but a shift in discourse, and in how we view each other’s unique struggles.
The fundamental irony is that the most dramatic scene in the 1915 “Birth of a Nation” is one in which a white woman commits suicide to avoid being raped by a black man. It’s not as if Parker and Celestin aren’t aware of that and aren’t intentionally rubbing white people’s noses in it.