Sep 6, 2016

The Birth Of Nate Parker, The (Faux) Militant Male Feminist

Nate Parker is acting again.

His interviews, especially his latest with Ebony, are grand performance pieces, a testament to method dramatics. His diction is on target as he delivers his lines effortlessly, the words dripping with emotion, exuding with charm. His character, the "Changed & Enlightened Man", comes across to his audience as a complex, tortured artist who prior to his road to enlightenment, was a mere naive youngster who was (unjustly) railroaded by the (white) judicial machine back in 1999. Most will have hankies dabbing at their eyes or have clenched fists raised shouting, "Right on brother! I'm with you!", applauding and lauding him for such a riveting and convincing performance.

As for me, my hands remain in my lap, clasped, and motionless.

Though Ebony's Britni Danielle has taken Parker to task during her very lengthy interview with him --- asking the questions that a lot of us have been asking since the rape allegations resurfaced, with eagerness to form an honest dialogue about male privilege and rape culture with someone who is neck-deep in such controversies --- but consider me unmoved at the masquerade that Parker is trying to pull during this sit-down one-on-one.

I was at one point excited to see The Birth Of A Nation, Parker's historical passion project about the revolutionary Nat Turner and his famous 1831 slave rebellion in South Hampton, Virginia. From the subversive title-turning of D.W. Griffth's controversial and odious 1915 film The Birth of A Nation to the fact that Nat Turner's life would (finally) be honored and give new meaning to celluloid slave narratives, I was ready, and pretty damn ecstatic to throw my money down on it.

I didn't know anything about Parker's past --- he wasn't strong enough on my radar aside from the few movies I'd seen him --- but once I learned about his involvement in a 1999 rape case during his time at Penn State, I do what I normally do when I first hear unsavory things about people: I give them the benefit of the doubt and keep one cautious eye open. One cautious eye open for any and all information that might sway my opinion otherwise. Well, both of my eyes were widened and opened when several court documents and a call transcript came to fruition earlier this month ---- along with the full story about Parker and those rape charges.

After reading and gathering information, I learned several standout things:

  • When Parker and his The Birth Of A Nation co-writer, Jean Celestin were students and wrestling teammates at Penn State University they were charged for raping an unconscious 20-year-old female student in their apartment. The accusers name was "Jennifer" and she was acquainted with Parker's now-wife, Sarah DiSanto
  • Parker was exonerated on a "technicality"as he had had consensual sex with the accuser prior to the actual incident (as if saying "yes" before gave license to use "yes" for eternity...). 
  • Celestin was convicted of the rape and served six months in jail. Later on his verdict was appealed and he was granted a new trial. The charges were dropped "Jennifer" (understandably) declined to testify. 
  • After the dropped case, "Jennifer"sued Penn State and received a $17,500 hush money settlement (Interestingly, Fox Searchlight paid Parker and Celestin were paid $17.5 million for BOAN during a newsworthy bidding war for the film's rights...things that make you go hmm...). 
  • During and after the trial, Parker and Celestin (and their supporters) harassed "Jennifer", trying to convince her through phone conversations and confrontations that she "put herself in that situation".

With all this information piling up and the truth seeping through the paper-thin line of lies, I made the decision that my money would be better spent elsewhere, and that I just could not support The Birth Of A Nation nor Parker himself. I needed no further convincing or needed to weigh options, what I had read was damning towards Parker and Celestin.

This situation concerning Nate Parker is a nesting doll of complexity, and people have strong, almost vitriolic feelings about it. Since this news has come out there has been rampant discussions about studio sabotage, white media machine discourse, separation of art and artist, about racial loyalty, Black women's "jealousy", and about toxic men and the webs of rape culture they weave. All are not legitimate arguments (especially that silly "sabotage!" angle), but most make valid points. Still my focus on this particular thought process is on Parker and his attitudes, and the hideous crime he allegedly inflicted, and not the movie or his Hollywood status as a Black man. No, his overwhelming hubris to points of performance is where my irritation lies.

With every interview and statement that he makes during his promotional tour for The Birth Of A Nation, he continues to expose his utter cluelessness, his crafty ability to twist words and gaslight, and his repugnant, narcissistic need to sculpt himself into the victim. He just gets creepier and creepier with each interview and PR move he does and it's unbelievable.

His lengthy 'apology' statement reeked of arrogance and was littered with a lot of "I's" and "me me me's". In his exclusive Variety interview, he refers to the rape case as "a very painful moment in my life". He also piles on the sob biography detailing how he 'struggled' to make himself into the man he is today, making sure to mention how mature and "moved on" from his thorny past he is. Despite having defenders like Rev. Al Sharpton and Harry Belafonte, Parker also admitted 'disappointment' at Black people (more specifically Black women) for not giving him support and for daring to have interest in a case that happened "so long ago". I mean, he is just too damn much in a little bag.

Even his staunch supporters have worked my nerve, as former Penn State classmates (and current "employees" of his Nate Parker Foundation) penned an open letter that was published on The Root. The letter also roller coasters in 'Parker-speak' as it's littered with inconsistencies (they are disappointed in Parker and Celestin's actions, and yet they support him...?), victim blaming, and contradictions, the most damning is that they want to "embrace a vibrant discussion about misogynoir and toxic masculinity as we do racism and white supremacy".

Good grief.

In this new Ebony interview, Parker, decides to 'embrace' such a discussion, pledging to fight back against toxic masculinity and to reassure the public he understands that his aforementioned statement and comments were insensitive to sexual assault survivors. Yet, the conversation he has with Ebony is anything but vibrant as once again he plays up his much vaunted "Changed & Enlightened Man" role, a role he has admitted he has taken on just two weeks ago after doing "extensive" research for it.

During these two weeks, he has learned a new word ("consent"), and what it "means". He watched a documentary (Kirby Dick's The Hunting Ground), read a few choice articles written by women of color about his case (Roxane Gay's and Maiysha Kai's "open letters"), and talked to his female Birth Of Nation castmates (it should be noted that his BOAN co-star, Gabrielle Union is a rape survivor) and now he totally gets it, he is now 'knowledgeable' about feminism, rape culture and toxic male misogyny, because he studied, y'all.

Look, I'm all for learning and having open dialogue in hopes of changing bad attitudes, and I'm all for people turning over new leafs, getting second chances, and learning the error of their ways. Conversations about rape, its crime and its culture, need to happen and happen often so that rape can be prevented, and eradicated from our society. If Nate Parker is in fact a rapist (a fact that I believe), a kernel of possibility is there for him to show remorse, own up to responsibility, and to mend such open and sore wounds with the general public. But as words are cool, they are also cheap, and gleaning from this loaded interview Parker still doesn't 'get it' and hasn't "learned" a damn thing. He just thinks he's smarter than everybody reading.

Instead of sounding sincere, he sounds rehearsed and his line delivery is manipulative and deflective. What gets me is that he claims to have support for women, but he still forgets about one woman --- his accuser, his alleged victim --- and throughout the interview he still manages to bring harm to her, even in death. Parker essentially erases "Jennifer" in favor of a flowery lexicon of allegiance and with such an erasure he has eroded other victims in the same breath. He never addresses the specific harm he did towards his accuser. He gets awful close, saying:

"I was thinking about myself. And what I realized is that I never took a moment to think about the woman. I didn’t think about her then, and I didn’t think about her when I was saying those statements, which was wrong and insensitive."
Still, this isn't about statements, this is about not fully understanding the misconduct at hand. The reason most were steamed and disgusted wasn't only because of his insensitive language in interviews, it was because of the contemptible charge itself, the charge that he raped and harassed a woman and his flippancy and ignorance towards it. With diminishing the essential core of the conversation, he's not putting balm on the wounds, he's throwing acid on them.

"I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong. I was acting as if I was the victim because I felt like, my only thought was I’m innocent and everyone needs to know. I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second." 
Parker is only "remorseful" and felt obligated "think about" his victim, read up on terminology and express wanting dialogue because his coins and his reputation in Hollywood was put on the line. Real talk. Nothing makes people talk faster and backtrack like a squealing cassette tape on rewind when their money (or lack thereof) is threatened, and Parker talks a fast and lyrical game in this interview, he's very slick, very charming, and its why his sit-down with Ebony has been lauded as some step forward towards redemption and absolution. All he did to me, was chose the right script and recited it verbatim, you know, like a pro thespian.

Still, Parker doesn't understand that his newfound 'social justice solider' and 'militant male feminist' guise comes with responsibility --- responsibility Parker hasn't truly shown with his new personalities.

In his interviews, Parker has continuously brought up that he's a husband and the father of five daughters. He even brought his six-year-old daughter to his interview with Variety, to prove he's 'Father Of The Year'. Aside from such pandering, I think the biggest irony for Dudley Do-Right Parker is that he has five young daughters. He's surrounded by young women, even a college-aged daughter, yet he still doesn't see them.

He especially doesn't see their youth in favor of his own 'misspent' one:
Back then, it felt like…I’ll say this: at 19, if a woman said no, no meant no. If she didn’t say anything and she was open, and she was down, it was like how far can I go? If I touch her breast and she’s down for me to touch her breast, cool. If I touch her lower, and she’s down and she’s not stopping me, cool. I’m going to kiss her or whatever. It was simply if a woman said no or pushed you away that was non-consent.  
Let me be the first to say, I can’t remember ever having a conversation about the definition of consent when I was a kid. I knew that no meant no, but that’s it. But, if she’s down, if she’s not saying no, if she’s engaged–and I’m not talking about, just being clear, any specific situation, I’m just talking about in general. 
Parker blaming his "youth" on not knowing about consent is ridiculous to me, and its dangerous. From these particular choice quotes, 36-year-old Parker views 19-year-old Parker as an innocent naive kid. A complete babe in the woods who should be given a free pass because he didn't know "any better". When we give free passes due to this reason, we are excusing abusers and never holding them accountable for their turgid actions. We are also belittling the act of rape, not seeing it for the crime that is, as the abuse and power it holds over victims, instead we treat it as something that we're to ignorantly and grossly toss at the victim's feet, telling them to clean up the mess.

"Consent" wasn't an ideal that was invented yesterday, it didn't posses a different definition in 1999, and it didn't suddenly change its definition in 2016. It has always been a cog in the machinery of rape. "No" has always meant "no", and "no" has especially and always meant "no" when it comes to women who are knocked-out unconscious and unable to speak. Silence and being dead to the world DOES NOT give clearance to do whatever the hell you want to somebody.

Since Parker is "studying", he needs to take a look at the A Different World episode entitled, "No Means No", especially the scene where Dwayne Wade (Kardeem Hardison) after learning about the sinister motives concerning Freddie Brooks's (Cree Summer) date, and begins a dialogue with RA Walter Oakes (Sinbad) about rape and consent. You can watch the full episode on Netflix now, but this scene specifically is a concise, intelligent A-B-C easy explanation to why "no means no" and why men need to learn about boundaries. I mean a kid can follow this dialogue it's so simple...:

Note that Dwayne is in college. Note that he's probably around 19 years of age. Note that he's a young man knowing something is off  about the language and tone that his creep friend and other guys use to justify their predatory sexual proclivities. Note the manner of such a dialogue and how these Black men have a conversation that's bigger than themselves.

The "boys will be boys" angle is the crutch excuse of those who like Parker do not want to take responsibility for their actions. Just a couple of weeks ago we heard this deflective narrative being spun to excuse Olympic gold-medalist, swimmer Ryan Lochte and his swim mates for their criminal activity during the Rio games. Now here is Parker, trying to act coy as if the crime him and Celestin were charged for (and oh so did) was akin to them horsing around on the basketball court and accidentally breaking someone's car window with an out-of-bounds pass. Youth is no excuse for a crime of rape's caliber.

It's scary how throughout this interview Parker does not understand what rape is. Scary that he believes the knowledge of consent begins after one gains marriage and kids of his own. It's scary that he believes what he and Celestin did that night was a "threesome". It's scary that he still is speaking for his accuser when she can't defend herself, scary that he's trying to manipulate Ebony's audience of Black women into believing since he learned terminology and dialogue from us, he's down with us, when he's actually using us as scapegoats. It's even scarier how he still brings everything back around to him, and that he believes his newfound "understanding" makes him noble, a hero this side of Nat Turner, that he deserves a fucking cookie.

This is why Parker's interview with Ebony isn't a progressive turn of events. There is nothing advancing the conversation or celebrating in its discussion. Nothing that reassures the public or reassures women that men who commit rape can reverse their feelings and suddenly find empathy. Ebony's interview is more so about Nate Parker feeling sorry for himself and putting on a performance to make you feel empathy for him. He's playing us like fiddles, banjos, and 808 machines and in honesty, I wish he stopped talking, but I have to remember that even silence is detrimental.

One question that I wished Parker was asked during this entire interview was what about the key eye-witness, his fellow roommate Tamerlane Kangas, aka the "Guy Who Walked Away". The night of the rape, Kangas saw Parker's door opened with "Jennifer" lying unresponsive and Parker on top of her. Kangas testified that Parker beckoned for him and Celestin to engage in the act. Celestin went inside, but Kangas did not. In telling the Daily Beast:

"I made a decision not to stay. The whole situation in general, whatever was going on, was just not me. It’s just not who I am. I just felt like it was a bad place to be and I didn’t want to be there. I took myself out of the situation."
Kangas, a college student who was around Parker's age, and one of Parker's acquaintances, walked away. He knew better. He knew right from wrong and didn't need to be young or watch a documentary or look up the word "consent" in the damn dictionary to know this.

Exit stage right, Nate Parker, you're audition for "Changed & Enlightened Man" is over.

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