Gabrielle Union: I Understand Why Some People Have Decided Not to See Birth of Nation

Movie's director Nate Parker was accused of rape when he was in college

By Marc Malkin Sep 11, 2016 11:00 AMTags
Gabrielle Union, TIFFTodd Williamson/Getty Images

The Birth of a Nation cast received applause when they appeared on stage Friday night  to introduce the film's two screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival.

They received standing ovations when they reappeared on stage for Q&A's after the end credits rolled.

But no matter how much praise the real-life drama about Nat Turner's slave rebellion in the 1830s attracts, there are some people who have already said they won't see it because of director and star Nate Parker's alleged involvement in a rape while he was in college 17 years ago. Parker was acquitted of the charges, but Hollywood trade media begin re-examining the story earlier this summer.

Gabrielle Union, who plays a slave in the movie, says she can "understand" why some won't be seeing the film.

TIFF 2016: Birth of a Nation Receives Standing Ovation
Todd Williamson/Getty Images

"I say, for a lot of different reasons this film's going to be difficult to see for a lot of people, and I get it," Union, who wrote about her own rape and the Parker controversy in a powerful essay for the Los Angeles Times, tells me. "There are movies I sit out, so I understand and I'd be a hypocrite to say I don't.

"But I would say this movement that this film has inspired includes our issues," she continued. "That is my sole purpose, and I've been by joined by so many advocates and allies on our cast and worldwide who say this is uncomfortable and everything makes me so angry, but I recognize that there is a movement that I want to be a part of, and that movement is education about sexual violence, toxic masculinity, misogyny, rape culture. I want to be a part of that."

2016 Toronto Film Festival: Star Sightings

Parker didn't directly address the sexual assault allegations when I asked about those who have decided to skip what he has called a "labor of love" and a "passion project."

He first praised the 400 people involved in the making of the movie.

"My hope is that we can recognize that films are very difficult to be made, and then furthermore, that this film is hopefully more than a film, that it's an opportunity to be parlayed into a movement that we can look at this and say, 'Yeah there was the film, but after the film I had this conversation,'" Parker said. "You know, after the film I talked to my kids and said, 'You know what son, or daughter, this is how you should move forward, or this is what this type of integrity looks like when it comes to standing up for people around you.'"

If the TIFF reception was any indication, The Birth of a Nation may still be in the running come awards season, a hope that dimmed when Parker's past began to be re-examined last month by Hollywood industry media outlets.

The film is in theaters on Oct. 3.

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