Nate Parker apologizes
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We aren’t done talking about Nate Parker. In an exclusive in-depth interview with Ebony released over the weekend, Parker addressed, as Ebony calls it, the “growing firestorm surrounding his 1999 rape allegation.” Nate Parker spoke with senior editor Britni Danielle for 25 minutes about consent, toxic masculinity and male privilege. He actually says the words “consent,” “toxic masculinity” and “male privilege” and discusses each issue AT LENGTH. There is so much in this conversation; I’ve re-read it about 15 times. The general takeaway is that this is Nate Parker’s Official Celebrity Apology. And as far as celebrity apologies go, this one is pretty candid. While he still doesn’t admit to raping a woman in his dorm room when he was 19, he openly admits that he had “never thought about consent as a definition” and still has a lot to learn. Not only does he repeatedly check his privilege, he apologizes for putting his own feelings and career over the feelings and life of his alleged victim. He also calls out his arrogance for thinking the rape case and the coverage surrounding it was all about HIM.
“I was acting as if I was the victim, and that’s wrong…I didn’t even think for a second about her, not even for a second…You asked me why I wasn’t empathetic? Why didn’t it come off more empathetic? Because I wasn’t being empathetic. Why didn’t it come off more contrite? Because I wasn’t being contrite. Maybe I was being even arrogant.”
This admission does not make up for what happened in 1999. This conversation with Britni Danielle is the one Nate Parker should have been having two weeks ago. It’s the apology he should have offered up instead of the smug, entitled, and dismissive comments he gave to Deadline and Variety and the statement he made on Facebook. And there are still serious, inherent problems with the way Nate Parker doesn’t refer to his accuser as a survivor when he talks about other rape survivors. He still refers to the incident as a “threesome.” So this is in no way absolute redemption. And the interview does not change my decision to not see his movie. Nate Parker should have listened to women SOONER and BEFORE he did all the dumb sh-t, yes. But does it mean something that a black man in Parker’s position is saying the things he says in this interview? Here’s how Nate Parker explains his definition of consent in 1999:
“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.”
That answer is infuriating on a lot of levels but does it sum up what a lot of men ignorantly believe when it comes to sex? Probably. A straight, male Hollywood actor is engaging in an honest, uncomfortable and raw conversation about consent. Let’s sit with that for a second. This is what I was hoping for when I wrote about The Birth of a Nation’s impending press tour. I hoped Nate Parker would have to answer these tough questions. I hoped he would have to sit across from women who would take him to task on his f-cked up statements. Multiple times in this interview, Nate Parker deflects the conversation from his own feelings to acknowledge how his words and actions have affected survivors of rape. Over and over, he talks about overcoming his privilege and even makes the comparison between black male privilege and white supremacy.
“I’m understanding that I’m dealing with a problem, like an addiction. Just like you can be addicted to White Supremacy and all of the benefits, you can be addicted to male privilege and all of the benefits that comes from it. It’s like someone pointing at you and you have a stain on your shirt and you don’t even know it.”
Last week, I wrote about how complicated this story has been to unpack, especially for black women. I mentioned some of the brilliant black feminist writers who eloquently pointed out the proverbial “stain” on Parker’s shirt. Well, apparently, Nate Parker was reading too. He references the documentary about campus rape, The Hunting Ground. He name checks Roxane Gay’s New York Times essay, The Root’s Maiysha Kai and The Huffington Post’s Demetia Lucas D’Oyley. He says he was listening to the black women who used their voices to criticize him. He apologizes for his messed up homophobic comments. He says he is a “work in progress” and is “trying to be better.”
Let’s not forget that the man is promoting a movie. He wants to take The Birth of a Nation all the way through awards season to Oscar night in February. So, as much as I hope this interview is genuine and Nate Parker is being real when he says “This is the first step. You will know my commitment by the next few steps,” I’m still skeptical he’s not just saying what he thinks we need to hear in order to go see his movie. I am skeptical that he’s not hoping this is the last conversation he’ll have to have about being an alleged rapist. But if that’s not the case and IF this is the first step in a long tour of contrition and repentance for Nate Parker, where do we go from here?
This is where I turn to activist Leslie Mac’s tweets about restorative justice.
I believe in the power of restorative justice. I believe in the possibility for those who have wronged other to repent & change. I have to.— Leslie Mac (@LeslieMac) August 27, 2016
As a Black Women I don't have the luxury or not believing in Restorative Justice AND work towards Black Liberation. They go hand in hand.— Leslie Mac (@LeslieMac) August 27, 2016
Nate Parker will not go to jail for this alleged rape. He was already acquitted. He has been able to, in his words “not even think for a second” about the incident for 17 years. If Nate Parker has been tried in the court of public opinion and he has been found guilty, what is his sentence? Again, jail is not an option. Do we wish him physical and emotional harm? He’s a father of five. I wouldn’t wish that even if he were childless. So. If he can’t go to jail and he probably won’t disappear forever to never be heard of again, what does justice look like here? Does Nate Parker get banished from the film industry altogether? Does justice come in the form of a film that tanks at the box office because we refuse to watch it? Does this cost him a few Oscars? Is justice served in the fact that for the next few months while Nate Parker promotes this movie, he will continue to have to say the words “consent,” “toxic masculinity” and “male privilege” over and over and over again? It can’t stop at this one interview. This sole interview does not give him a pass to go on and promote his film, business as usual. His next interview should also be with a woman. Instead of being asked about HIS life, he should have to answer questions about HERS. Repeatedly. He should have to confront his actions head on – again and again. AND AGAIN.
And even after all of that, in the spirit of restorative justice, does Nate Parker’s career as an actor, director and writer in Hollywood continue? Should it? I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that we shouldn’t stop asking them.