August 24, 2016 10:04 am

Nate Parker’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ screening, Q&A cancelled by AFI

Nate Parker attends the 2016 Essence Black Women In Hollywood awards luncheon on February 25, 2016.

Earl Gibson III/Getty Images for Essence
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The American Film Institute (AFI) cancelled its planned screening of Nate Parker‘s Birth of a Nation on Friday, in addition to a scheduled Q&A with Parker himself, after details of a 1999 rape case involving him surfaced earlier this month.

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The screening would have been Parker’s first event since the story began circulating. Jan Schuette, the dean of AFI, made the announcement late Tuesday.

“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” Schuette said. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”

READ MORE: Nate Parker “devastated” after learning of his rape accuser’s suicide

Fox Searchlight, the studio behind the film, will hold a different AFI screening of Birth of a Nation later in 2016. The studio is pushing forward with the movie’s theatrical release and publicity tour despite the allegations against Parker.

Fox made a statement two weeks ago: “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 was charged and later acquitted of raping an 18-year-old woman while he was a student and wrestler at Penn State in 1999.

Charged along with his roommate Jean Celestin (who is a co-writer of Birth of a Nation) for sexually assaulting the woman, Parker claimed the sex was consensual, while the woman insisted she was unconscious during the encounter. She said she was also stalked and harassed by both men after she reported the assault. Parker and Celestin were suspended from the wrestling team, and Parker transferred to an Oklahoma college.

As noted, a jury eventually acquitted Parker of the charges, partially because he and the alleged victim had consensual sex before the purported rape. Celestin was found guilty of sexual assault, and was sentenced to six months in jail. Celestin appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial, but the case ended because the victim didn’t want to testify further.

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The anonymous victim (whose identity is being kept secret) committed suicide in 2012.

Unlike AFI, the Toronto Film Festival is still planning to screen Birth of a Nation to audiences this year.

“We’ve had these issues before, to be honest … with controversial films that we have shown, but we still feel that we obviously stand behind the film,” Piers Handling, director and CEO of TIFF, tells The Canadian Press.

“The film is a very serious film that deals with a subject that I think we should be dealing with. This subject should be explored, so we’re happy to be screening it.”

“We saw the film months ago and I was very moved by the story it told,” Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, said. “It’s a story that we still don’t see onscreen very often and so we wanted to invite the film, to bring it to Toronto to share it with our audience.

“I still think it’s a powerful story. I think the film tells a chapter of the history of American slavery in a very strong way, emotive way.”

After the Sundance Film Festival, the film was pegged as a serious Oscar contender and an important addition to an industry mired in diversity issues. The renewed attention on the rape case in recent weeks has cast a pall over its future success.

READ MORE: 12 movies to see at this year’s Toronto Film Festival

“We, like everyone, have been reading coverage in the last couple of weeks and it’s painful,” Bailey said. “It’s a hard thing to think about, it’s painful all around. But we did believe that our job as a film festival is to present works of art that we feel are well made and tell important stories, and so we’re going to present the film as planned.”

Birth of a Nation opens on Oct. 7, 2016, and will be screening at the Toronto Film Festival during its run from Sept. 8 – 18.

With files from The Canadian Press

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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