Actor and director Nate Parker's new film follows his directorial debut, 2016's The Birth of a Nation

By Dave Quinn
August 07, 2019 02:10 PM
Nate Parker
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty

The Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker is returning to the spotlight three years after he became mired in controversy over his involvement in a rape case trial.

Parker, 39, has a new film, American Skin, world premiering at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, it was announced Wednesday.

Spike Lee will present Parker’s film, as part of the festival’s Sconfini section. He and Parker will be on hand for the screening, and will discuss the film at the end of the projection.

In American Skin, Parker plays Lincoln Jefferson  — a recently divorced Marine veteran who takes a job as a janitor at a prestigious junior high school in California in order to mend his relationship with his estranged son. When his son is killed during a routine police check and the officer guilty of shooting him is declared innocent, Jefferson takes the entire police station hostage, staging an actual trial with inmates and common people in the jury to finally bring justice to his son.

“My brother, Nate Parker, has concocted a BRAVE TOUR DE FORCE,” Lee said in a statement. “I haven’t been affected by a film like this on so many levels in a long, long time. It is my hope and prayer that the movie audience will understand this battle between LOVE and HATE, which has divided our world. Bravo Nate, Bravo.”

Parker’s new film follows his directorial debut, 2016’s The Birth of a Nation. 

That film was considered to be an early Oscar favorite after earning rave reviews and an unprecedented $17 million deal at the Sundance Film Festival. But buzz for the film was overshadowed due to a renewed attention on a college rape case involving Parker. He left the spotlight soon thereafter.

Nate Parker in Birth of a Nation
Fox Searchlight Pictures

RELATED: A Complete Timeline of the Nate Parker Rape Allegations and the Production of Birth of a Nation

While a student at Penn State University in 1999, Parker and his friend Jean McGianni Celstin — who was listed as a collaborator on Birth of a Nation — were both accused of sexually assaulting a then-18-year-old female classmate.

Parker was charged, tried and subsequently acquitted. Celestin, who was also charged, was convicted and sentenced to six to 12 months in prison. A judge ordered a second trial following an appeal and the case was tossed out in 2005 after the accuser decided not to testify.

News later surfaced that their accuser committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.

Nate Parker
Carlo Allegri/AP

“I am filled with profound sorrow,” Parker wrote on Facebook after the news broke, adding: “While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. … 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.”

That same day, the woman’s family released a statement to The New York Times in response to Parker’s statement:

“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.”

The 76th Venice International Film Festival runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7.