After Gabrielle Union publicly penned an article in which she stated that, as a rape survivor herself, she cannot take lightly prior abuse allegations against The Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker, the actress now says she believes he is “doing the work to evolve.”
“He’s a man who is evolving,” Union told PEOPLE at the film’s premiere in Hollywood Wednesday. “He’s a man who wants to evolve and is doing the work to evolve. He’s not that 19-year-old kid. He’s a father of five girls, and that’s not lost on him, one of whom just started college. It’s not lost on him.”
Union, who appears in the film based on the life of the noted 19th-century slave rebellion leader Nat Turner, wrote an op-ed article for the Los Angeles Times in early September expressing her divided feelings over media reports of Parker’s 1999 accusation and acquittal on rape charges while a student in college. His accuser committed suicide in 2012.
Prior to her article, Union had been outspoken about her own experience as a rape survivor 24 years ago, and in the film plays a woman who is sexually assaulted.
Writing that the accusations against Parker had left her in a “stomach-churning state of confusion,” the actress noted that no one outside of the individuals involved knew with certainty what took place. She said further that she hoped that the film could prompt serious discussions about sexual violence, misogyny and rape culture.
On the red carpet, the Being Mary Jane star said she believes in the innate goodness she’s seen in Parker, who wrote directed, produced and stars in Birth of a Nation.
VIDEO: Inside Nate Parker’s 1999 Rape Trial
“I refuse to leave him in the same place that I found him,” she said. “And I know he’s a good man. I know he’s a good man, and he’s a brilliant filmmaker, but just like all of us, we’re all evolving and we all have a tremendous amount of space to learn and to grow. Once you allow yourself to be humbled, that’s when real growth really, really happens, and that’s what I think we’re all seeing.”
Union also said she is not troubled by revisiting her own painful personal experience as part of the larger conversation.
“I take the responsibility very seriously, and I took the film so I could talk about black liberation as well as sexual violence,” she explained. “Because my character didn’t have any lines, I knew that I was going to have this opportunity on the press tour to talk about the intersectionality of the movements of my blackness and my woman-ness, and that sexual violence has always existed at that crossroads.”
She added, “I’ve always been open to that, and because that’s why I took the film I’ve never shirked that responsibility – and I don’t intend to anytime soon.”