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Oscar contender Nate Parker says he thought of consent differently when he was accused of rape in college

Nate Parker, the actor dealing with a 17-year-old rape case casting a storm over his new film and career, opened up about the 1999 incident in a new interview. Parker spoke about understanding his male privilege and the definition of consent in a lengthy interview Friday with Ebony magazine in Los Angeles.
Nate Parker, the actor dealing with a 17-year-old rape case casting a storm over his new film and career, opened up about the 1999 incident in a new interview. Parker spoke about understanding his male privilege and the definition of consent in a lengthy interview Friday with Ebony magazine in Los Angeles. AP

Nate Parker said he’s been aware of white privilege since he was young, but after rape allegations from 17 years ago resurfaced, he said he’s now trying to get a better understanding of male privilege.

The director and star of “The Birth of a Nation,” a film on slavery that’s already an Oscar favorite before its official release, was accused of rape alongside his roommate when he was in college. He was acquitted of all charges, but recently discovered his accuser had killed herself in 2012.

Parker addressed the allegations with Ebony Friday night, the first interview he’s given in the weeks since he discovered the woman committed suicide. And implying rape charges are not as simple as guilty or not guilty, Parker said his definition of consent is very different now than it was when he was 19.

“Back then, it felt like ... I’ll say this: at 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go? If I touch her breast and she’s down for me to touch her breast, cool. If I touch her lower, and she’s down and she’s not stopping me, cool,” Parker told Ebony. “I’m going to kiss her or whatever. It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent.”

Now, as a 36-year-old married man with five daughters, Parker said he sees consent differently, explicitly asking what his wife does or does not want. He also said he believes culture and male privilege played a part in his attitudes toward sexual consent at the time, and he thinks that culture persists today.

“I think that they are more things than the law. I think there is having a behavior that is disrespectful to women that goes unchecked, where your manhood is defined by sexual conquests, where you trade stories with your friends and no one checks anyone. At 19, that was normal. As a 36-year-old man, if I looked at my 19-year-old self as my son, if I could have grabbed him earlier before this incident, or even just going to college,” Parker said. “Because for me, it’s about this incident, but it’s about a culture that I never took the time to try to understand. I never examined my role in male culture, in hyper masculinity. I never examined it, nobody ever called me on it.”

Parker said he first started thinking about those issues differently after he got married and had his daughters, because “you have something to protect.” But he also said he hadn’t thought about the rape charges once in the past 17 years, until the media brought up the case when covering his film.

After the allegations resurfaced, Parker said he turned to female friends, some of whom are sexual assault survivors, and asked what he should learn about the issue. He said it taught him that he needs to use his platform to talk about not just white privilege, but male privilege, because many famous black men do not talk about that problem.

“If I can use my platform to affect change in gender, as I can in race, then I think I can have an impact,” Parker said. “This is not the end-all, it’s a work in progress. And I say that humbly as a person that has literally been humbled into really reassessing his ideas and thoughts.”

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