It is with terrible irony that actress Gabrielle Union chose to play a woman who gets raped in the highly-anticipated slave revolt film Birth of a Nation.
Most people know that Dwayne Wade’s wife was raped in real life when she was young California woman. But the fact that Nate Parker, the director of Birth of a Nation, was accused (and eventually acquitted) of raping a young woman at Pennsylvania State University 17 years ago — while his college friend was convicted before it was overturned — greatly complicates the promotion of the movie.
What makes it much worse is the fact that the woman in question, who says she was raped, committed suicide four years ago.
Union wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times where she addresses the issue of Parker’s alleged sexual assault — and it doesn’t look like she totally believes Parker’s version of the events. Take a look, according to the L.A. Times:
Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working. Two years ago I signed on to a brilliant script called “The Birth of a Nation,” to play a woman who was raped. One month ago I was sent a story about Nate Parker, the very talented writer, director and star of this film. Seventeen years ago Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of sexual assault. Four years ago the woman who accused him committed suicide.
Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion. I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.
“As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly. On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said “no,” silence certainly does not equal “yes.” Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a “no” as a “yes” is problematic at least, criminal at worst. That’s why education on this issue is so vital.
As a black woman raising brilliant, handsome, talented young black men, I am cognizant of my responsibility to them and their future. My husband and I stress the importance of their having to walk an even straighter line than their white counterparts. A lesson that is heartbreaking and infuriating, but mandatory in the world we live in. We have spent countless hours focused on manners, education, the perils of drugs. We teach them about stranger-danger and making good choices. But recently I’ve become aware that we must speak to our children about boundaries between the sexes. And what it means to not be a danger to someone else.
To that end, we are making an effort to teach our sons about affirmative consent. We explain that the onus is on them to explicitly ask if their partner consents. And we tell them that a shrug or a smile or a sigh won’t suffice. They have to hear “yes.”
In conclusion, Union makes it clear that she doesn’t know what really went down inside that dorm room 17 years ago. This could prove problematic for Parker:
“Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know. Nor does anyone who was not in that room. But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize.”
Despite her sentiments and conflicting feelings, she wants people to see this very important film that won an award at the Sundance Film Festival and was bought for the highest amount of any film in Sundance history.
What are you thoughts about what Union has to say and how does that change your views of Parker, if at all?