Actress Gabrielle Union, 43, was raped at gunpoint when she was 19 years old in 1992 at a Payless shoe store where she worked. In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, September 2, 2016 addressing the Nate Parker rape allegations, she reflects. Ironically, Union is co-starring in The Birth of a Nation as Esther, a rape victim, in the film written and directed by Parker, 36.
She writes emphatically, “As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly.”
In 1999, when Parker allegedly committed rape, he too was 19. He and his The Birth of a Nation writing partner Jean Celestin were accused rape, sexual assault, indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
Parker was acquitted in 2001. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault, a verdict subsequently overturned when a retrial set for 2005 did not take place because the alleged victim did not wish to testify again. Their accuser committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30. According to her brother, Johnny, she overdosed on sleeping pills.
Union writes in part:
Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working. 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. Seventeen years ago Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of sexual assault. Four years ago the woman who accused him committed suicide.
Different roads circling one brutal, permeating stain on our society. A stain that is finely etched into my own history. Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals. 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.
I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film.
I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.
did Nate have his date’s consent? 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. That’s why education on this issue is so vital.
Regardless of what I think may have happened that night 17 years ago, after reading all 700 pages of the trial transcript, I still don’t actually know. Nor does anyone who was not in that room.
The Birth of a Nation, which hits theaters on October 7, is about Nat Turner (played by Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, who orchestrates an uprising.