Nate Parker received more Canadian love Saturday night as he introduced The Birth of a Nation at the Vancouver Film Festival, where it had a screening ahead of its Oct. 7 release by Fox Searchlight.
Despite a media storm south of the border over a resurfaced rape case, Parker faced no protests or heckling incidents in Vancouver after two earlier standing ovations during separate screenings of his film during the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
"We have a lot of things we need to deal with," he told the Vancouver audience, referring more to the history of racial injustice that provides a backdrop to Birth of a Nation than the events of his 1999 rape case. "I do believe in the saying, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,'" Parker, who appeared without fellow castmembers in Vancouver, added.
But he also paid tribute to Aaron Gilbert, a producer with Vancouver-based Bron Studios, a key financier on the long-gestating pic. Parker said Gilbert and his financing team embraced the high-risk indie project enough to make it a reality.
"You know what, yeah, we may be putting our money in a hole and setting it on fire," the director affectionately said of Bron putting its money, and faith, in his film. "But it's for a cause and it's bigger than us," he added of his Canadian financiers.
The latest enthusiastic reception north of the border for the film comes a day before Parker's first TV interview about the 1999 rape case with Anderson Cooper on CBS' 60 Minutes. In that interview, which CBS previewed on Friday with an excerpt, Parker refused to apologize for his role in the college rape case, while insisting he had been ly accused and vindicated in court.
Bron Studios' Gilbert, like Parker, made no direct reference to the filmmaker's sexual assault case as he insisted Birth of a Nation needed to be widely seen to heal a divided nation. "The film may stir controversy, but what it will do is create conversation. And that's what's important to me, conversation to help with understanding, and hopefully with tolerance and acceptance," said Gilbert.
Birth of a Nation centers on the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831. The film was a breakout hit at Sundance, but came under fire this summer when public attention was brought to a 1999 trial in which Parker and Jean Celestin (who co-wrote Birth of a Nation) were accused of raping a classmate at Pennsylvania State University. Parker, who maintained the sex was consensual, was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted. Celestin's case was overturned on appeal. It was discovered that the accuser died by suicide years later.??
Besides the Vancouver festival screening, Fox Searchlight also plans advance screening of Birth of a Nation in Vancouver and Toronto on Oct. 6.