‘The Birth Of A Nation’ Receives Standing Ovation At Toronto Film Festival Amid Nate Parker’s Rape Controversy

Nate Parker’s directorial debut The Birth of a Nation has been rapturously applauded in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) despite the controversy surrounding the film due to the director’s alleged rape case.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film received a 90-second ovation after its screening and later a two-minute standing ovation as the cast of the movie appeared on the stage.

The presence of the 36-year old actor, director, and writer of the film in the TIFF was his first public appearance since news of his involvement in 1999 rape case reappeared. Introducing the movie, Parker said, “I want to thank you for your time and for coming to see our film. This film has been a labor of love for us and we are desperately proud to present it to you.”

Nate Parker attends Toronto International Film Festival.
Actor and director Nate Parker attend Hollywood Press Association and InStyle’s Annual Toronto Film Festival Celebration. [Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP Photo]

The critically acclaimed slavery drama tells the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American preacher, who led a slave uprising in 1931 in Virginia.

In the Q&A session following the screening, Parker elaborated on the inspiration for the script.

“I didn’t learn about Nat Turner in high school. I grew up 42 miles east of where the rebellion happened and there’s not even a remnant of his exploits. When I learned about him I felt like, ‘Man this is someone who should be celebrated along the line of the Patrick Henrys, the Jeffersons and our forefathers.”

He added, “I was so inspired by his story that when I became an actor and decided I would start writing, I felt like this was a story that I felt historically speaking could really promote the kind of healing we need and the conversation around race.”

Nate Parker at the Sundance Film Festival Awards
Nate Parker accepts the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award for his film “The Birth of a Nation” during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP Photo]

The film was bought for $17.5 million by distributor Fox Searchlight when it premiered earlier this year at the 32nd Sundance Film Festival. After enjoying enthusiastic reception as well as winning both Audience Award (dramatic) and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the film was expected to collect many more awards, including the Oscars.

However, an alleged rape case against Parker and Jean Celestin — who co-authored story for Birth of a Nation— back in 1999 threatened to undermine the film’s success.

As his alleged involvement in rape began to take the limelight away from the merit of his film, he recently issued a lengthy statement regarding the rape case on his Facebook page. He also gave interviews in Variety and Deadline addressing the circumstances behind the trial.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

While a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University, Parker and his then roommate, Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow Penn State student. The unnamed victim claimed that Parker and Celestin sexually assaulted her when she was intoxicated and unconscious.

Both men were suspended from the wrestling team, and Parker later moved to a different college in Oklahoma.

Parker admitted having sexual intercourse with the woman but claimed that it was consensual. He was acquitted in 2001 based on testimony that he had previously engaged in consensual sex with the accuser.

Celestin, on the other hand, was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison according to court documents obtained by Variety. On appealing the verdict, he was given a new trial in 2005 — but the case was shelved after the victim decided not to testify again.

The massive public interest in the controversial case has led journalists to dig deeper into the case unraveling further tragic news about the anonymous woman.

Last month her brother, Johnny, told Variety that she had committed suicide in 2012. Her death certificate stated that she was suffering “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse.”

Last August, Parker insisted in his interview with Deadline that it was the last time he would talk about the case while promoting The Birth of a Nation. However, given the public attention it has garnered, it is very unlikely that this matter will subside anytime soon.

[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]