“I’ve learned a lot in the last three years. It’s been a journey of wisdom — talking to people who are important to me, asking their advice, getting their support and learning more about myself, being introspective about the last three years, and I’ve learned a lot,” Parker told reporters during a press conference for “American Skin” at the Venice Film Festival.
Released at the height of #OscarsSoWhite, “The Birth of a Nation” won the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 for its depiction of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion. It was bought by Fox Searchlight for a festival record $17.5 million and was expected to be a major Oscar contender.
But the film’s buzz was derailed after the resurfacing of rape accusations against Parker and his “Birth of a Nation” co-writer Jean Celestin in 1999, when he was a student at Penn State University. The two men were accused of raping a young white woman on campus and later starting a harassment campaign against her. Celestin was convicted, but Parker was acquitted, and the accuser took her own life in 2012.
According to The Daily Beast, Parker apologized for how he handled questions about the accusations during the lead-up to the film’s release.
“Standing here at 39, the reality is I was quite tone-deaf to a lot of the things around in the climate, and my response during that time obviously hurt a lot of people, and frustrated and angered a lot of people, and I apologize to them,” he said. “I’m still learning, and growing, and still feeling the need to make films that I think speak to things that need to change in our country, and the world.”
Three years after the release of “Birth,” Parker returns to filmmaking with “American Skin,” which he wrote, directed and stars in. He plays a Marine veteran who takes a police station hostage after one of the officers at the precinct shoots his son during a traffic stop and escapes being charged.
Spike Lee, who has a “presented by” credit on the film, was in Venice to support Parker and said that “there hasn’t been a film that’s affected me this deeply in a while.”
“Nate is in here, he’s not hiding, he’s answered all questions, and we’ve got to move forward. That’s how I feel,” Lee said. “It’s fruitless for me to say, this happened to Nate and this happened to other people. Can’t do that. This is only Nate’s second feature film. He has a lot more in him. That’s why I’m here.”
But Parker’s apology has been met with skepticism from some observers, including Women in Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein.
“Is he apologizing for what he did, or for not realizing that being defiant on national tv about his actions was gonna get him in trouble?” she tweeted on Sunday.
Parker is one of three filmmakers who have been accused of sexual assault and who have films screening at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Roman Polanski, who fled the U.S. in 1978 while being tried on rape charges, has his film “J’Accuse” in competition at the festival, though he is not in attendance at the festival. Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York,” which had its U.S. distribution dropped by Amazon Studios, is also screening at the festival.
“American Skin” does not currently have a U.S. distributor. It will have a buyers screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.