Four Penn State alumni, who were classmates of actor and director Nate Parker, have penned a letter stating that they believe in his innocence with regards to a rape he was charged with 17 years ago, and believe that it is unfair that allegations are resurfacing just months before the release of his new film The Birth of a Nation.
The letter, which appeared exclusively on TheRoot.com on Thursday was written by LaKeisha Wolf, Assata Richards, Lurie Daniel Favors and Brian Favors, who outline several issues they say have been missing from the narrative surrounding the allegations against Parker, who was acquitted and his friend Jean Celestin, who was convicted and served time in jail before having the conviction overturned on appeal.
Among the things the group pointed out, they said a climate of racial hostility on Penn State’s campus was a contributing factor in the charges (the accuser was White); that allegations that Parker harassed the woman who accused him were not true; that witnesses were threatened by investigators who were trying to build their case against Parker and Celestin; that a prosecution witness changed his testimony during the trial; that prosecution and defense witnesses and evidence entered in court showed the woman was conscious and engaged during the sexual encounter, which Parker has maintained was consensual.
“We are both dismayed and disappointed at the gross and blatant misinformation campaign regarding the events that took place during that time period,” the group’s statement says. “We feel compelled to speak truth to this situation as the media has cherry-picked the most salacious elements while ignoring the actual record.”
Controversy surrounding Parker rose when Deadline and Variety published reports that the woman who Parker was charged with raping had committed suicide in 2012. Her brother had said depression and anxiety had taken its toll on her and she was unable to cope.
While they did acknowledge and expressed remorse over the woman’s death, they cite a history of depression and use of anti-depressant medication. But they also said they were “deeply disappointed” with the personal choices made by Parker and Celestin, saying that “far too many young men participate in patriarchal, misogynistic structures without consideration of the long-term implications.”
The four say they were there during the original time of the charges and the trial and that “we believed some 17 years ago that Jean Celestin and Nate Parker were innocent of rape and we believe that now.”
Others, including actor Harry Belafonte and Rev. Al Sharpton have come out publicly to say they are not convinced of Parker’s guilt, despite much media attention being given to the accusation of rape. Belafonte, in an interview with the Associated Press said he questioned the timing of the resurfacing of the allegations.
“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.”