Parker’s film – which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in – is a dramatization of Nat Turner’s famous 1831 slave revolt and was considered an early Oscar favorite after earning rave reviews and an unprecedented $17 million deal at the Sundance Film Festival.
But the acclaim has been overshadowed by his involvement in the 1999 rape case, thrust back into the spotlight after recent reports surfaced that Parker’s accuser had committed suicide in 2012 at age 30.
While a student at Pennsylvania State University, Parker was charged, tried and subsequently acquitted of raping a female classmate. Jean McGianni Celestin, Parker’s longtime friend, wrestling teammate at Penn State and collaborator on Birth of a Nation, was also charged. Celestin was sentenced to six to 12 months in county prison, despite the mandatory sentence of three to six years. The judge “departed from the mandatory sentence because of the supporting letters he received on behalf of Celestin from, among others, officials at Penn State,” Deadline reports, citing a lawsuit the alleged victim later filed against the college. Celestin appealed, and a second trial was dismissed when the accuser declined to testify again.
Parker addressed the renewed public interest in the case via a statement posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday, in which he asserted his innocence while admitting that he looks back “on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”
The Accuser’s Testimony
A couple of weeks before the end of her freshman summer session at Penn State, she describes meeting the older Parker and finding him “attractive.” They exchanged phone numbers, and when she returned home for a period of time to take care of her sick brother, they kept in touch over the phone.
She claimed she had never met Celestin before the night of the alleged sexual assault, but told the court she did see Parker and Celestin a week after the rape “propping up a drunk girl walking down to McDonald’s.” She added that when “they saw me … they turned around and walked the other way.”
On Thursday, Aug. 19, 1999, the accuser was moving into her freshman dorm. She said she had considered seeing Parker the night before – he had asked her to spend the night at his place – but she declined after a friend warned her “don’t’ do it, he’s a dog.” Instead, the accuser said she invited Parker to her dorm the next day, reasoning she’d be more in control on “her turf.” He arrived under the pretense of helping with the move, but says Parker immediately began making sexual advances, and at one point “tugged at my panties” from under her skirt. The accuser admitted she performed consensual oral sex on Parker. “I’m not proud of it,” she said in court, “but I saw it as being safer [than sex].”
According to the testimony, the pair made plans to meet at 10 p.m. the next night at a bar formerly called the Silver Screen (now Mad Mex). She said Parker asked if she could bring a friend for his roommate, but the girl she invited canceled. When she got to the bar, Parker was not inside, so she sat down at the bar where an older man ended up buying her “four to five” mixed drinks over the course of approximately the next two hours. At some point during that time, she recognized a friend at the bar who bought her another drink.
The accuser remembers Parker finally arrived at the Silver Screen with Celestin after the band finished playing, which she remembered to be around midnight. She said they picked her up and left to go to a friend’s apartment, where she recalled she and Parker took a shot of alcohol.
At this point, the accuser said, “I knew I was intoxicated.” She continued, “I made a point that I wanted to go home, back to my dorm, and Nate said that I was too drunk to go to my dorm and that I’ll get in trouble if I was on campus being that intoxicated.” The accuser said Parker offered her a room to sleep in at his apartment.
When they arrived at Parker’s apartment, she said, “They gave me a T-shirt to put on and I crawled into bed and fell asleep.”
From there, she alleged, “I just remember opening my eyes and seeing Nate having intercourse with me.” She also claimed she woke up to realize she was performing oral sex on someone and mentioned having sex with another person who was not Parker. “When it was somebody other than Nate, I said, ‘Where is Nate?’ ” she told the court.
During a subsequent phone call with Parker taped without his or Celestin’s permission, the accuser alleged Parker had nonconsensual sex with her again in the morning. “I was so out of it and groggy, and I was just so hung over and my whole body was numb,” she told Parker on the phone of that morning, according to a transcript of the call later obtained by Deadline.
In the morning, the accuser said she woke up naked and alone. She said she thought, “Oh s—, I’ve just been raped.” According to Celestin’s statement, obtained by Deadline, “the next morning Nate told me [the accuser] had left early because she had to lead a freshman tour on campus. Nate said he had called her a cab and given her some money for the cab fare.”
Parker and Celestin tell a very different version of the events. According to Parker’s police statement obtained by Deadline, the sex was consensual and his “ordeal” began on Oct. 13, 1999, when the accuser called him “out of the blue” claiming to be pregnant.
During the phone conversation, the accuser falsely claimed to be pregnant, which she later explained was an attempt to get Parker to identify the third sexual partner in the room that night, according to Deadline. Police later monitored a second call during which both Parker and Celestin admitted to having consensual sex but denied any wrongdoing.
At the end of the first phone call, Parker said he told the accuser, who admitted to raising her voice, “to call me back when you are ready to talk to me like an adult.” Parker then confided in a wrestling coach about the phone call, and was told to be “very nice to her when she [calls] again.” Parker said the coach also warned that “these things come up from time to time with girls who feel guilty … or may even find themselves pregnant with a multiracial child and rejected by their parents.” (The accuser is white and Parker is African-American.)
VIDEO: Nate Parker Addresses College Rape Case
During the phone call, Parker said in his testimony, he told the woman “she didn’t drink around me and sure didn’t seem drunk that night.” Parker also addressed a moment in the conversation (corroborated by the transcripts), in which the accuser asked for an apology from Celestin so she “could move on.” Parker remembered he told the accuser that “Jean wouldn’t apologize because he hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Nevertheless, Parker said he did put Celestin on the phone, who reiterated he had done nothing wrong. Parker said he could hear the accuser asking Celestin if he had carried her down the hall to the apartment. He replied that there was no reason to carry her because she wasn’t drunk, and added she “must have an imaginary friend who carried her.”
Celestin made a similar claim in his police statement. “I knew [the accuser] hadn’t been drunk,” he said. “She never did or said anything that would ever lead me to believe that she had been drinking. I never smelled alcohol on her breath.”
Despite Celestin and Parker’s claims they never witnessed the accuser drinking that night, during the recorded phone conversation, Parker told her, “I can’t control your drinking … I was drinking, you were drinking, everybody was drinking,” in reference to that night.
The Phone Calls
Parker and the accuser exchange their recollections of the night during the taped phone calls, which were entered as exhibit in court. After prefacing the call under the false pretense of a pregnancy, the accuser began to ask Parker to fill in details from the night.
When she asked how Celestin became involved in the sex, Parker replied that his roommate “was still [in the apartment]” when they were having sex, and that “it started happening and you didn’t do anything to stop it.”
“But Nate, I was so out of it,” she replied. “My whole body was numb, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
When she later complained that the sex had left her with a “bad pelvic infection for a month and a half,” Parker replied, “I’m not … trying to be mean, but I felt like you put yourself in that situation.”
Parker also told the woman he had no hint that she was uninterested in having sex, to which she replied, “Yeah, but it’s kind of hard to give a hint when you’re pretty much sleeping through the whole thing.”
She added, “Did you ask me once if I was ok? Did you ask me, ‘Can I bring somebody else into the room?’ ”
“Why would I ask you to bring somebody else in the room when someone’s already in the room?” Parker replied, referring to Celestin. “We’d always been in the room, I told you that like twice,” he added.
Yet according to Celestin’s own statement, Parker and the accuser were allegedly already having sex when he entered the room. “When I passed by Nate’s door I saw [the accuser] undressed and all over Nate,” he said. “At that time she was having sex with Nate.”
A third man present in Parker’s apartment that night, Tamerlane Kangas, testified that Parker, with a “smirk on his face”, waved him and Celestin to join him when they observed Parker and the woman having sex, according to court documents published by Deadline.
Unlike Celestin, Kangas declined the invitation and left the apartment. He was not charged with any crime. “I didn’t believe that four people at one time was – you know, it didn’t seem right,” he testified.
After much back and forth, during which Parker continually insisted the sex was consensual, the accuser told Parker, “Nate, I didn’t want to have sex with you that night. I mean everybody that I had sex with before you have always been in a relationship.”
Allegations of Harassment
After Parker was acquitted and Celestin won a new trial on appeal, the accuser filed a civil suit against Penn State for the school’s alleged “inadequate response to the sexual harassment [the alleged victim] experienced as a result of being raped by two male Penn State students,” according to the lawsuit obtained by Deadline.
In the lawsuit, her representatives claim “Penn State took no action to discipline Parker and Celestin except to suspend them from the wrestling team for the remainder of the year, although they continued to receive their wrestling scholarships and attend class.”
The complaint further alleged, “Parker and Celestin began an organized campaign to harass [her] and make her fear for her safety.” This allegedly included hiring a private investigator “who showed an enlarged photograph of [her] to students on campus” leading to her unwanted identification as the alleged victim by many students. After her name was known, the complaint said she “was harassed on campus and was no longer able to eat or socialize in public areas.”
The accuser filed a complaint with campus police, who sent a letter warning Parker and Celestin to stay away. But the lawsuit alleged the harassment continued, including one occasion in which Parker supposedly “stationed himself” outside her dorm, “preventing her from leaving.” Her complaint also claimed Parker and Celestin “constantly” appeared outside her classes and “constantly hurled sexual epithets” at her on campus.
The suit alleged the harassment led to “severe depression, sleeplessness and anxiety attacks.” On Nov. 8, 1999, she sent a statement to Penn State officials detailing the abuse, and also filed a complaint with Penn State’s Office of Judicial Affairs.
On Nov. 17, she attempted suicide “because of the desperate situation she faced.”
Following the suicide attempt, campus advocates arranged for the alleged victim to meet with Penn State’s Office of Judicial Affairs Officer Joe Puzycki to discuss her safety concerns. Despite the meeting, Puzycki “[refused] to believe that Jane Doe’s safety was at risk or that she was being threatened” and “took no steps to address Jane Doe’s safety needs.”
On Nov. 23, she attempted suicide for the second time.
In response to more pleading letters, Penn State allegedly decided to relocate the woman off campus, which she said did nothing to stop the alleged harassment. Despite the turmoil, the complaint stated the accuser was able to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.
The lawsuit was eventually settled for $17,500 and the promise to review sexual harassment practices at the school.
In 2002, the woman committed suicide at the age of 30 after overdosing on sleeping pills, her older brother told Variety.
“If I were to look back at her very short life and point to one moment where I think she changed as a person, it was obviously that point,” the accuser’s older brother Johnny told the website. “The trial was pretty tough for her.”
Her death certificate, obtained by Variety, stated that she suffered from “major depressive disorder with psychotic features, PTSD due to physical and sexual abuse, polysubstance abuse …”
After the incident, Parker reportedly transferred to a different college, in Oklahoma.