'Birth of a Nation' Star Gabrielle Union Addresses Nate Parker Rape Allegations in Op-Ed

As the release of The Birth of a Nation draws near, the 1999 rape accusations against writer/director/star Nate Parker and his collaborator Jean McGianni Celestin remain a controversial and divisive topic. 

Now, Parker's The Birth of a Nation co-star Gabrielle Union is addressing these allegations in a new op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. According to Union, the importance of the film does not outweigh the seriousness of the allegations.

"Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working," Union wrote in the op-ed, which was published on Friday. "Two years ago I signed on to a brilliant script called The Birth of a Nation, to play a woman who was raped. One month ago I was sent a story about Nate Parker, the very talented writer, director and star of this film."

Referencing the suicide of the woman who accused Parker of sexual assault, Union called rape a "wound that throbs long after it heals," a throbbing that can sometimes become too much to take:
'Birth of a Nation' Star Gabrielle Union Addresses Nate Parker Rape Allegations in Op-Ed
"And for some of us the throbbing gets too loud. Post traumatic stress syndrome is very real and chips away at the soul and sanity of so many of us who have survived sexual violence."

As for the controversy's impact on the film, Union pressed for society to embrace educating their children to understand what consent actually means. Additionally, Union said she took the Birth of a Nation role in an attempt to give voice to victims of sexual violence. "On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date's consent?" Union wrote. "It's very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said 'no,' silence certainly does not equal 'yes.' Although it's often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a 'no' as a 'yes' is problematic at least, criminal at worst."

Union revealed that, even after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, she doesn't actually know what happened between Parker and the woman 17 years ago. "But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments, or anywhere else young people get together to socialize," Union said. You can read her full op-ed here.

In an interview with Ebony last week, Parker spoke about his own education on consent as a child. "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," Parker said. "I knew that no meant no, but that's it." Parker also expressed regret regarding his initial statements on the allegations, which he said were spoken from a standpoint of ignorance.

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