Nate Parker awkwardly cut off an interview after being asked a question about his rape case

The first public screening of Birth of a Nation at the Toronto Film Festival was a success. That is, until a reporter got cut off after asking filmmaker Nate Parker about his past rape case. When CBC’s Eli Glasner spoke to Parker regarding the movie, Parker enthused about the “400-plus people that worked on this film,” describing it as the product of “so many hours” and “so much love.” He then expounded on the heroism of slave revolt leader Nat Turner and “the energy that went into destroying his [Turner’s] legacy.”

However, as soon as Glasner brought up the “media attention” surrounding Parker’s 1999 rape case and the suicide of his (alleged) victim in 2012, the atmosphere changed. “Do you think Fox Searchlight has changed their strategy because of all of this media attention?” Glasner asked. Parker’s off-screen handler then immediately killed the interview, saying, “Thanks, Eli, we gotta wrap up.” This wasn’t a matter of time running out; Glasner said on CBC News that his time with Parker was “nowhere near” the five minutes originally allotted for the interview.

Or maybe the atmosphere didn’t change all that much; according to the A.V. Club’s Sam Barsanti, Parker may have been on the defensive from the start. By mentioning the numerous people who worked on Birth of a Nation, Barsanti argues, Parker was attempting to separate the movie’s success from his own life. If that’s the case, the comment about Nat Turner’s legacy being “destroyed” could have been a further defensive measure, aligning journalists who ask about the rape case with the would-be destroyers of Turner’s legacy.

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Is there a component of racism in the treatment of Parker’s rape case? Absolutely. It’s much easier for the media to keep sexual assault and other forms of abuse in mind when dealing with non-white male celebrities. When it comes to white celebrity abusers, like child rapist Roman Polanski or spousal abuser Bill Murray, these heinous acts are usually waved away.

Of course, this doesn’t absolve Parker of anything he’s done. We should never gloss over sexual assault or other forms of abuse, especially when they’re committed by someone whose work claims to stand for liberation and equality — in fact, that’s what makes this situation especially stomach-turning. Birth of a Nation claims to speak out against the history of American slavery, an oppressive system that was in large part perpetuated by the routine sexual abuse of women. When you throw a rape allegation and harmful male privilege into the mix, it potentially yields some deeply troubling next-level hypocrisy.