On Friday, the LA Times released an op-ed written by Gabrielle Union. Its headline: 'Birth of a Nation' actress Gabrielle Union: I cannot take Nate Parker rape allegations lightly. When I first saw this headline, I literally gasped out loud. What follows the headline is a stirring, emotional and must-read essay by an actress who could have easily chosen to stay silent. Instead, she chose to speak. She chose to stand up in an industry that usually favours those who stay seated.
Gabrielle Union is a rape survivor. She tells us this in the first sentence of her piece. She’s also been open about being a survivor for her entire career. If someone was giving Gabrielle career advice, they might have advised her not to add more fuel to the blaze of controversy The Birth of a Nation is embroiled in. You know, since she stars in it and still has months left of press to do while standing beside her boss, co-star and alleged rapist Nate Parker. But according to Gabrielle, speaking up was not a choice.
“My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control. It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform. When I am scared. Confused. Ashamed.”
Scared, confused and ashamed are three emotions victims of sexual assault are well acquainted with. They are emotions that prevent victims from using their voices. And for this reason Gabrielle Union says she, “must reach out to anyone who will listen — other survivors, or even potential perpetrators.” She then goes on to talk about Parker’s case specifically. Gabrielle writes, “… 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.”
This is when I started nodding vigorously at my computer screen like it was a person or something. It’s just so, so on point and I can’t imagine how long it took Gabrielle to build up the courage or find the words to be so on point about an exasperating controversy.
I have been writing about Nate Parker’s rape allegations for over a month now. I’ve written about how so many people were rooting for him, how he’s since lost my support and how I hoped The Birth of a Nation’s entire press tour would be an ongoing conversation about consent. With this essay, Gabrielle Union is continuing that uncomfortable but necessary dialogue. While we have all been struggling week after week to process this story, Gabrielle Union has been “in a state of stomach-churning confusion.” My stomach was all tangled up just reading her essay. We’ve established that this story is confusing for black women. Think of how difficult it has been for a black woman who actually stars in the movie?
In an interview with Vulture in January, Gabrielle Union said the following about Nate Parker:
“Watching Nate come on — don’t tell my husband — I’ve never been more proud of anyone in my life. In my life. When it said "Nate Parker wrote, Nate Parker directed. Nate Parker produced!" I just had so much pride. So much f-cking pride, and it’s so important.”
If anyone was rooting for Nate Parker, it was Gabrielle Union. She found out about her beloved director/writer/producer’s rape allegations at the same time most of us did. AFTER she had already shot The Birth of a Nation and transformed herself into a character who doesn’t speak a single word but whose rape is a pivotal moment in the film.
“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. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.”
This essay has made us painfully aware of the cruel irony that Gabrielle Union, a rape survivor, took this role so that she could speak on sexual assault and the man who gave her that role is allegedly a rapist. It’s so f-cked up.
I want you to really get how f-cked up it is before I get to the part where it seems like Gabrielle still wants us to go see the film. Of course, she still wants us to go see it. It’s her work. It’s her time, effort and performance. It’s a film she chose for other victims of sexual violence. But like I’ve said before, if this film succeeds, it’s a win for Nate Parker. He will reap the benefits of its success. On Twitter, Gabrielle has been supportive of people who tweet that they’ve decided not to see the film. To me, she’s doing everything she possibly can short of boycotting the movie and it’s understandable why she isn’t doing that. SHE’S IN THE MOVIE. Again, she chose the film because she wanted to help victims of rape. She’s in an impossible position.
Variety confirmed that Gabrielle will be at TIFF and is set to attend a press conference with Nate Parker. In her essay Gabrielle wrote that she hoped to use this film, “to play an active role in creating a ripple that will change the ingrained misogyny that permeates our culture.”
Last time I wrote about Nate Parker, I hoped he would have to keep talking about his alleged rape and the meaning of consent. At every press stop. In every interview. I hoped that he wouldn’t think his interview with Ebony was enough. Gabrielle Union just made it even more impossible for this topic to be avoided at TIFF.
Click here to read the entire op-ed.