Nate Parker's critically acclaimed passion project has been overshadowed by renewed attention on his 1999 rape trial

By Jodi Guglielmi
August 18, 2016 09:40 AM
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

The Toronto International Film Festival is moving forward with plans to premiere Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation next month, amid renewed attention on the director’s involvement in a college rape trial.

“TIFF is proud to help bring Birth of a Nation and the important story it tells to audiences,” festival organizers told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “We will present the film as planned.”

The director and his critically acclaimed film have been overshadowed by controversy after it was revealed that Parker, 36, was acquitted in a 2001 trial after an 18-year-old female classmate at Penn State University accused him and his Birth of a 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. But 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.

On Tuesday, Parker issued a lengthy statement about the case on his Facebook page, expressing the “profound sorrow” he felt after learning that his rape accuser committed suicide four years ago.

In the statement, Parker wrote that while he still maintains his innocence, he looks back “on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom.”