Four former Penn State students have released a joint statement in support of Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker and co writer Jean Celestin. The two are currently dealing with a controversy centered around Parker’s recent statements about a rape accusation they both faced in college.
In 1999 Parker and Celestin, both wrestlers at Penn State, were accused of rape by a female classmate. The former was acquitted at trial but the latter was found guilty (however his conviction was overturned on appeal).
“We were present during the entire trial and ultimate exoneration of both Mr. Parker and Mr. Celestin. At the time, we were college students, staff and alumni who were deeply involved with countering the violently hostile racial climate that thrived in the Penn State community,” begins the lengthy statement from LaKeisha Wolf, Dr. Assata Richards, Lurie Daniel Favors and Brian Favors.
“We believed some 17 years ago that Jean Celestin and Nate Parker were innocent of rape and we believe that now,” the statement adds before going on to list a number of key points about the investigation and trial.
There’s a lot to unpack in the statement, which can be read here (via The Hollywood Reporter). Harry Belafonte also offered his thoughts on the case earlier this week, stating how it’s unfair Parker’s breakout moment is being overshadowed by the 17-year-old rape case.
“The fact is that he was confronted and then he did go through the process,” Belafonte told the Associated Press. “Why are you bringing this up now? What has he done that requires this kind of animus?”
Belafonte, who saw Birth of a Nation also admitted that he’s not entirely aware of the rape case that has recently resurfaced, saying: “I don’t even know what the facts are. I don’t know what the truth is.” You can read the rest of the interview here.