As scandal surrounds her upcoming film The Birth of a Nation and its director, Gabrielle Union is not mincing her words.
Two months before the wide release of her latest Sundance project, the actress has penned an emotional op-ed in the Los Angeles Times regarding her co-star and director Nate Parker. In the midst of publicity for his upcoming project, the 36-year-old director-producer-writer has come under fire for a rape he was accused of committing as a college student at Penn State University in 1999. Parker was acquitted of the charges during the trial and, this month, issued a statement after learning his accuser had committed suicide in 2012.
"I am filled with profound sorrow…I can't tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can't help but think of all the implications this has for her family," he wrote on Facebook. "I cannot- nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law."
However, his remarks have not eased Union's concerns. Instead, as a teenage survivor of rape at gunpoint, Union drew from her own experience to launch a national discussion.
"Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals. 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," she wrote in her published piece for the newspaper. "Since Nate Parker's story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion."
"As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly," she added. "On that night, 17-odd years ago, 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."
However, she was careful to note that she does not know for certain what transpired between Parker and his accuser. "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. 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."
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As a staunch advocate for sexual violence survivors, Union saw an opportunity to address the larger issue with her character, Esther, who is silent throughout the entire film. "I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character," she explained.
"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."
Privately, according to Union, she and her husband, Dwyane Wade, make a conscious effort to explain to their sons the "boundaries between the sexes and what it means to not be a danger to someone else."
"As a black woman raising brilliant, handsome, talented young black men, I am cognizant of my responsibility to them and their future," she said. "We are making an effort to teach our sons about affirmative consent. We explain that the onus is on them to explicitly ask if their partner consents. And we tell them that a shrug or a smile or a sigh won't suffice. They have to hear 'yes.'"
E! News has reached out to Parker for comment in light of Union's op-ed.