After a screening of The Birth of a Nation Friday night at the Merge Summit, a conference about the intersection between faith and entertainment, Nate Parker gave his first interview about the rape charges he faced 17 years ago since the disastrous Variety and Deadline interviews that sparked a furor. Sitting down with Britni Danielle for Ebony, Parker spoke at length about his past, his understanding of consent, and the culture of toxic masculinity that enabled both the alleged rape and his initial, defensive response to the conversation about his past. The whole interview is worth reading; both its tone and its content are markedly different from Parker’s first attempts to address the issue—and different from the ham-handed approach his Penn State classmates took on Thursday. Parker was blunt about the way he discussed the rape accusations two weeks ago:
You asked me why I wasn’t empathetic? Why didn’t it come off more empathetic? Because I wasn’t being empathetic. Why didn’t it come off more contrite? Because I wasn’t being contrite.
Parker described the crash course he’s been taking on issues of consent, reaching out to rape survivors in his circle of friends and coworkers, watching Kirby Dick’s documentary about college rape The Hunting Ground, and listening to the people who are criticizing him, mentioning Roxane Gay, Maiysha Kai, and Demetria D’Oyley by name. Parker compared his ignorance on issues of consent with white privilege, saying, “I recognize as a man there’s a lot of things that I don’t have to think about. But I’m thinking about them now.”
Although Parker didn’t talk about the alleged rape in detail, he did say, “I think that there are more things than the law,” going on to criticize a culture where “manhood is defined by sexual conquests.” He apologized for his initial response as well as his 2014 statements about homosexuality, in which he said he would never play a gay man. He dismissed charges that his past was being dug up to harm the release of The Birth of a Nation, saying, “It’s here now … I gotta face my past, whether it be 17 years ago or 17 minutes ago.”
So far, reaction to Parker’s interview has been positive, at least compared to his past statements. Demetria D’Oyley was impressed by his apology:
While Parker’s earlier interviews with Variety and Deadline were designed to put the rape allegations to rest once and for all before The Birth of a Nation’s release, he seems to now share Gay’s understanding that he is at the beginning of a process of growth, telling Ebony, “This is the first step. You will know my commitment by the next few steps.”