In the midst of Sundance darling The Birth of a Nation receiving sweeping praise from critics everywhere, rape allegations against the film's director, actor, and producer Nate Parker resurfaced. Nate and friend Jean Celestin — who co-wrote The Birth of a Nation — were accused of raping a fellow student at Penn State. Nate was acquitted of his charges and Celestin's initial conviction was eventually overturned, and in 2012 their accuser committed suicide. Due to the accusations attracting a great deal of media attention, one of the film's brightest stars, Gabrielle Union, addressed the topic in a thoughtful, heartbreaking op-ed for the LA Times on Friday, which details her own experiences as a rape survivor.
"Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working," Gabrielle began the essay. "Two years ago I signed on to a brilliant script called The Birth of a Nation, to play a woman who was raped . . . Seventeen years ago Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of sexual assault. Four years ago the woman who accused him committed suicide." The Top Five actress noted that "rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals," and that since Nate's story was revealed to her, she found herself "in a state of stomach-churning confusion."
Gabrielle plays an unnamed slave who ends up being raped, and noted that although she took the role specifically for the reason that she could represent "countless black women who have been and continue to be violated," she couldn't remain silent any longer. "As important and groundbreaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly," she wrote, adding, "This is real. We are real. Sexual violence happens more often than anyone can imagine. And if the stories around this film do not prove and emphasize this, then I don't know what does."