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It's a horrific situation, no matter how you slice it. As The Birth of a Nation writer/director and star Nate Parker prepares to bring his Sundance Film Festival sensation to a larger audience via film festival screenings and platform releases, the story of rape allegations in his past surface. Parker took the dark story head on, speaking to the media recently to candidly confront his history, admitting that he's not the same person at 19 that he is now. Only, the lingering aspects of the criminal allegations -- and the shocking news that Parker's accuser committed suicide years ago -- have cast a palpable shadow over any conversation tied to the actual film, and an Academy member has now gone on record saying the news story will affect how she feels about the movie's Oscar chances.
Marcia Nasatir, an Academy member in the executives branch, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter and stands out as the first member to openly admit this:
Personally, I find it really hard to separate the man from the film when he wrote, directed and starred in it. Do I want to see a movie from someone who has committed an assault against a woman and who I do not think recognizes his guilt? Right now, based on what I've read, I would not go to the movie.
There are many who believe that talking about the criminal allegations in Nate Parker's past with regards to how it affects the Oscar chances of his current film is gross. Those people are not wrong. But they are also different conversations that are not separate, but strive to cover different angles. The facts tied to the allegations in Nate Parker's past are deplorable, and the director and star of The Birth of a Nation has come out publicly to admit this himself. He also wants the charges -- of which he was exonerated -- to stay in the past, and his movie to be its own vehicle for important messages. A lengthy campaign through the Awards season could trigger healthy conversations, though Marcia Nasatir will not be the first and only Academy member to feel the way that she feels.
Fox Searchlight, the studio that paid for the rights to The Birth of a Nation following its Sundance screenings, is in a difficult situation, from a business standpoint. They have a movie that they need to promote, and a writer/director who is eager to hit the circuit and sell the movie. The Birth of a Nation will be in Toronto, and Nate Parker -- at the moment -- still plans on embarking on a publicity tour at the festival. Will reactions like the one just shared by Nasatir change his mind? Will it convince him even more that he needs to get in front of the media and continue to push his narrative?
This is an evolving story, one that comes with no easy answers for any party involved. But an Academy member admitting on the record that Nate Parker's personal history will affect his or her opinion of his art is a wrinkle that likely was expected, and one that will have an effect on the film's future endeavors.