Actor and activist Harry Belafonte has weighed in on the controversy swirling around Birth of a Nation star Nate Parker.
Earlier this year, many pegged the film and Parker as leading award candidates during Oscar season, but the hype surrounding the project has been derailed after a 1999 rape allegation against Parker and Birth of a Nation’s co-writer, Jean Celestin, reemerged.
Back when they were students at Penn State, a woman accused Parker and Celestine of sexual assault. The pair went on trial in 2001, and only Celestin was convicted, though his case was later thrown out on appeal. Many, including Al Sharpton, have stood by Parker, who wrote, directed, and starred in Birth of a Nation, a film about abolitionist Nat Turner.
During an interview with the Associated Press about his organization’s upcoming music festival, Belafonte wondered why the rape allegation resurfaced now.
“It’s interesting because it’s coming out the same time the film’s coming out. Of all the stories you can tell, why are you telling this story?” the actor asked. “And if he was somebody who had committed a crime and got away with it, but he faced the justice system.”
Belafonte called Parker “a very bright man,” and Birth of a Nation “a winner.” He also admitted he didn’t know the specifics of the rape allegation levied against Parker.
“I don’t even know what the facts are,” Belafonte said. “I don’t know what the truth is.”
Still, the actor said the allegation is “history” because Parker was acquitted.
“The fact that [the system] may have screwed up, the fact that it didn’t really take care of justice, the fact that he should have been punished or whatever, is history,” Belafonte said. “The fact is that he was confronted and then he did go through the process. Why are you bringing this up now? What has he done that requires this kind of animus?”
Belafonte continued: “How do I put it in a perspective that helps me with greater clarity understand why this is the consequence of something he’s done by getting this high-profile, ’cause this film is touching a lot of consciousness.”
“Why isn’t that the story?” Belafonte wondered.
“And is this going to be the price that young Black women and men pay for making films of substance?” he asked. “Are they going to dig in and get dirt instead of fruit? What are we doing here? And where is the voice that defends him if he in fact is worthy of defending?”
Belafonte’s willingness to accept the justice system’s handling of Parker’s case is a far cry from his stance on other cases, namely that of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin. Back in 2012, Belafonte joined a group of protestors in Florida who demanded the state repeal its self-defense law, which they claimed led to the death of the unarmed teen. After Martin was killed, Belafonte called his slaying reminiscent of Emmett Till’s horrific murder. Now, he’s heaping praise on Parker.