The director of Birth of a Nation and actor known for movies including Beyond the Lights and Red Tails was acquitted in a 2001 trial after an 18-year-old female classmate at Penn State University accused the director and his Birth of Nation collaborator and friend, Jean Celestin, of sexual assault in 1999.
Celestin was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison, according to court documents obtained by Variety. He later appealed the ruling and a judge ordered a second trial, which was tossed out in 2005 after the accuser decided not to testify.
After the case resurfaced and made headlines this week, Parker issued a lengthy statement, indicating the “profound sorrow” he felt after learning that his rape accuser committed suicide four years ago.
In the statement, Parker wrote that while he maintains his innocence, he admits he looks back “on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
Read the full statement below:
“These are my words. Written from my heart and not filtered through a third party gaze. Please read these separate from any platform I may have, but from me as a fellow human being. I write to you all devastated,” he posted on Facebook. “Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions.”
“These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved,” he wrote. “I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family.”
“I cannot – nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
“I look back on that time, my indignant attitude and my heartfelt mission to prove my innocence with eyes that are more wise with time. I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name. Empathy for the young woman and empathy for the seriousness of the situation I put myself and others in,” he continued. “I cannot change what has happened. I cannot bring this young woman who was someone else’s daughter, someone’s sister and someone’s mother back to life.”
“I have changed so much since nineteen. I’ve grown and matured in so many ways and still have more learning and growth to do. I have tried to conduct myself in a way that honors my entire community – and will continue to do this to the best of my ability. All of this said, I also know there are wounds that neither time nor words can heal.”
“I have never run from this period in my life and I never ever will. Please don’t take this as an attempt to solve this with a statement. I urge you only to take accept this letter as my response to the moment.”
The late victim’s family released a statement to The New York Times, saying: “We appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals. While we cannot protect the victim from this media storm, we can do our best to protect her son. For that reason, we ask for privacy for our family and do not wish to comment further.”
However, the sister of the woman, whom the paper identifies as Sharon Loeffler, is refuting that statement, saying it does not represent the sentiments of other family members, or the woman herself. “I know what she would’ve said, and that would be, ‘I fought long and hard, it overcame me. All I can ask is any other victims to come forward, and not let this kind of tolerance to go on anymore.”
Birth of a Nation has been scheduled to open in theaters on Oct. 7, and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, studio sources say that the film remains on track for that release date. It remains unclear, however, what kind of role Parker will play in promoting the film.