Birth of a Nation was set to screen at AFI this Friday, with a Q & A from director/writer/star Nate Parker immediately following. But after the reemergence of the story of the 1999 rape trial (spurred by a Deadline article in which Parker himself gave an interview to address the fact that this story would likely break at some point in the lead-up to the release of his film), Variety reports that the screening and Q & A have been canceled.
Details of the case — in which the accuser alleged that she’d been raped while unconscious by Parker and his friend Jean Celestin, while the accused had alleged they’d had consensual sex — had been publicly available for a long time. But with the growing excitement about the film, those details were also amplified — and were further amplified when news broke that the accuser had committed suicide in 2012. Following this news, Parker released a statement writing that he was “devastated” and did not wish to “ignore the pain she endured during and following [their] trial,” though he also emphasized his innocence.
Parker was acquitted in 1999 after a case that sent the Penn State campus — where the incident took place — into a climate of both “victim blaming and racial hostility,”The Guardian notes. (The accuser was white, as were most of the members of the jury).
Regarding the cancelation, Jan Schuette, dean of AFI, said:
I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film. Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.
The film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, is apparently planning another AFI screening later in the year.