I am not a fan of Nate Parker. I have never seen any of his movies, and probably never will. I haven’t, because I’ve known about the accusations made against him for 17 years. Not only was I a student at Penn State University at the time the case broke, I knew the victim in the case.
I know about how this incident impacted not only her, but also some of my friends who were forced to take sides this case – people who have suddenly been re-launched into the public’s eye because of this.
I also know that, after running into her years later, she was trying to get her life back on track because of her son. She seemed to have some of the spark I saw in her prior to all of this. But what I did not know, until this week, is that she succumbed to her demons, and eventually killed herself. Nate Parker may have changed his life. I’m happy for that. But the negative manner this situation impacted the lives of her and others is not something I can easily forget.
That’s why what I am about to say even surprises me. I feel very, very slightly badly for Parker. I’m not sure if any of this is really fair to him. Why? Because the fact that all of this is coming up now, at this moment, after all these years, after people had been pointing this out online for years, is B.S.. Not because I think he doesn’t deserve the scrutiny.
My concern is, that I have no idea anymore how and when the media – especially the ethnic media – decides when it is going to interrogate people’s pasts. But in the post-Cosby, post-Sandusky era, this is something that needs to be assessed by every newsroom. Damon Young, as he posted on VerySmartBrothas.com, is right. There is no conspiracy here. But there is something that needs to be addressed on how we determine where and when we will bring out skeletons from the past.
Revisiting an old story
In a few months, someone will try to give accolades to The Daily Beast for its detailed account of Parker and Jean Celestin’s case. (And I’m going to take a firm no comment about the fact that Celestin co-wrote the script for the upcoming The Birth of a Nation). They shouldn’t. The fact is, nothing, other than the victim’s suicide, is new. Everything to know about the case is public record, and was reported repeatedly in the local media in State College, Pa. Much of this was also on Parker’s Wikipedia page. I know, because I checked several times to make sure it was there.
Not only is this not new, most of the information has been available on slow loading pages for more than a decade. Yet, despite this, Parker continued to rise in his career, while all this information was out there. And, for at least part of it, while the victim was struggling, while Parker was on his rise.
Parker went from being a computer programmer, to an actor, by chance. Shortly after he started, he found himself being groomed by none other than Denzel Washington in The Great Debaters. Since then, he has steadily built up his profile, moving from small roles, to movies with A-list, predominately white casts. To his credit, Parker made his rise without appearing in any of the new-age minstrel shows that African-American talent is too often forced to utilize to garner name recognition in Hollywood. He has had a genuinely admirable career.
Which brings me back to the question, of why him, why now? Why now, after so many years? Why now, when any of this could have been highlighted for more than a decade?
Nate Parker wasn’t big enough yet. The Birth of a Nation is a big deal. I get it. You do not need to tell me about the idea of star power, timeliness and newsworthiness. I fully agree that this was a major factor. But if that is the reason, it’s not a good one. Because it is a pretty screwed up method of determining when to cover something, if you are really honest.
By saying he “wasn’t big enough,” you are essentially saying that sexual assault, or other issues, aren’t worth the attention unless the party in question is popular, or somehow interesting to the public. That, to report about suffering, the suffering taking place must somehow be big enough, or interesting enough to readers. That it is okay to ignore something, until it becomes big enough, or interesting enough to our readers. Think about that. Do you not know how messed up such a logic is?
Not newsworthy enough right now is what led to the media ignoring the record of a certain oversized Oompa Loompa running for office, until he got close enough to having the nuclear codes.
It’s that logic that leads to months of lead contamination in Flint, Mich. It’s that logic that leads to young men like Kiwane Carrington being shot by police, without anyone knowing who he is. And it’s that logic that possibly led the victim in this case to sit, and wonder why no one cared about her story in her final days. At some point, we need to reevaluate prominence as it pertains to newsworthiness. This would be a great time to begin that reevaluation.
Certainly, there is a post-Cosby, post-Sandusky effect in play here. We finally are beginning to discuss issues related to abuse in the open. The cries of victims are now taken much more seriously than they were in 1999. Victim’s rights advocates, certainly, have taken up the cause in this case, notably following the revelation that the victim had passed away. It didn’t take 17 years for them to recognize the importance of highlighting this case.
But it is here, where I have the most extremely slight sympathy for Parker, who is now facing wary investors from Fox Searchlight, and potential career ruin, for something that could have been highlighted years ago. I’m not sure if Nate Parker will rebound from this. But if we truly are in an age, where sexual abuse allegations are taken seriously, why is there another Woody Allen film in the theaters right now? Why did a Bryan Singer film earn $539 million this year. Or is Nate Parker, if what I think may happen does, not important enough, not powerful enough – and not White enough – to warrant the benefit of the doubt from mainstream America and the mainstream press?
Racism you say? If you are speaking of the institutional brand, that absolutely is in play here, and will be in play down the road in this case. But keep this in mind: This is a story largely because ethnic media, which responded to Black Twitter, pushed it (which is why I don’t want to hear the “tearing down the Black man, nonsense, which I’m tired of hearing). It was also the Black public – through Hannibal Burress – that started the takedown of Bill Cosby, a story that had been out there for decades. The bigger question to that end is probably this. Why is it that the black media, and African Americans as a whole, are more willing to hold people’s feet to the fire for their transgressions, than the mainstream media, which has far greater resources to investigate issues? Why do they not go after the Bryan Singers, or Jerry Sanduskys of the world, with the same vigor the Black press chastises its own?
Is any of this fair to Nate Parker, whom I genuinely believe has changed his life around, and is a different person than he was in 1999? I don’t know. It probably isn’t in a way, even though I’m not really sure if I care what happens to him. But I do know there is a woman who is no longer with us, who felt that she never fully got the justice she deserved. We must begin the process of genuinely interrogating how we cover a myriad of issues, to ensure that fewer people like her exist in the world.