In an op-ed for the LA Times, Gabrielle Union has spoken out on the allegations that Nate Parker raped a woman that later committed suicide in 1999.
Union plays a slave with no speaking role in his upcoming film The Birth of a Nation, who is sexually assaulted. While she said that when she first came on to the project she did not know about the allegations, she experienced “stomach-churning confusion” when she heard about it. She says, however, that the case can be used to bring up the issue of consent.
“On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said “no,” silence certainly does not equal “yes.” Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a “no” as a “yes” is problematic at least, criminal at worst. That’s why education on this issue is so vital,” she wrote.
In 1999, the victim accused Parker and his roommate Jean Celestin, who Co-wrote The Birth of a Nation, of raping her in their apartment while she was unconscious. Parker and Celestin claimed that the sex had been consensual. Parker was acquitted, while an initial conviction of Celestin was overturned.
A civil suit was filed against Penn State, the school all three attended, by the Woman’s Law Project, claiming that Parker and Celestin created “organized campaign to harass and make her fear for her safety.” Penn State awarded her $17500, though she failed to graduate from the school.
If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,” Her brother, who only wishes to be identified as Jonny, told Variety. “The trial was pretty tough for her.”
In the end, the victim committed suicide in 2012 at the age of thirty. The victim’s death certificate, obtained by Variety, says she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse …”
Union has been an advocate against sexual violence in the past, stemming from her own brush with it at 19 years old when she was raped. Still, she has decided to look at the positive messages the film has to offer in wake of the recent revelation.
“I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence. To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful,” she wrote.
“But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary.”