This black guy was tried and acquitted in 1999. Throw a parade? The system worked? How often do we decry racism in the legal system, the chances that an innocent black man will be wrongfully convicted. But not this time. This time, the defendant was acquitted.
Sure, criminal defense lawyers will applaud the fact that a jury tested the allegations and concluded that they failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Sure, we will explain why the presumption of innocence remains intact, that this man, this black man, is innocent, as in everyone who is not convicted of a crime. Because this is how the system works. Because this is our legal system as its best.
And certainly the social justice warriors, while clueless as to the legal aspects of trials and acquittal, will stand behind this innocent black man and praise this outcome, right? The mere “technicalities” of law, that they either embrace or ignore according to the outcomes their religion dictates, favor this innocent defendant, because systemic racism is a tenet of their belief system. But no. Not this time.
Today, I am struggling to have empathy for Nate Parker, a man experiencing the height of his career while being forced to reckon with his past.
Mr. Parker wrote, directed, produced and stars in the movie “The Birth of a Nation,” which chronicles the life of Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he led in Virginia in 1831. The story the movie tells is important, and to see a movie like this getting mainstream attention is equally significant.
Nate Parker is that black man. He was tried in 1999. The crime was rape. He and a co-defendant were acquitted. So what does his movie have to do with any of that? Nothing, except it’s Nate Parker’s movie.
In 1999, Mr. Parker and his roommate Jean McGianni Celestin were accused of raping a young woman while they were students and wrestlers at Penn State University. (They said that the sex was consensual.)
What happened in 1999 is a familiar story: college athletes, alcohol, a vulnerable woman and allegations of sexual assault. [Ed. Note: Stereotyping is wrong, unless it serves the feminist narrative, and then it’s right.] The unnamed woman pressed charges against Mr. Parker and Mr. Celestin, claiming she was drunk, unconscious and unable to consent to sex.
The victim said that she was harassed and intimidated on campus by Mr. Parker, Mr. Celestin and their supporters. She twice attempted suicide, according to court records. She dropped out of school. The 2001 trial took three days. That the rape case even went to trial is a rarity. Mr. Parker was acquitted, based partly on testimony that he and the victim had previously had consensual sex. Mr. Celestin was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to prison, but the conviction was eventually overturned. The victim, who sued Penn State because she said the university did not protect her from the harassment she endured after filing charges, received a settlement of $17,500.
This is Gay’s characterization of the trial. She wasn’t there, but that doesn’t mean she can’t pretend that she knows what really happened. Parker may be a black man, but on the hierarchy of victims, even a black guy loses to a woman, who is entitled to be believed.
But why now does Gay find it worthy of a New York Times op-ed to condemn an acquitted black man?
Mr. Parker is being forced to publicly reckon with his past, and he is doing a lousy job. I want to have empathy for him, but everything he says and does troubles me. You see, what happened in 1999 was a “painful moment” in his life. Most of what he has to say about that “painful moment” involves how he felt, how he was affected. The solipsism is staggering.
The hypocrisy and ignorance is staggering too, but enough about Gay. What about Parker?
Both Mr. Parker and Mr. Celestin now have families and successful careers. They remain friends and collaborators. The victim, well, she committed suicide in 2012 and left behind a young son. She can no longer speak for herself.
That’s the kicker. The “victim,” despite the acquittal, committed suicide in 2012. Thirteen years after the alleged rape for which Parker was acquitted, she took her own life. And the implication is that it’s all Parker’s fault, as if this woman was a cartoon character for whom nothing existed except this alleged 1999 rape. Roxane Gay knows why she killed herself. Roxane Gay knows what to make of this “technicality” of acquittal.
And without any reluctance whatsoever, Gay imposes sentence upon Parker.
We’ve long had to face that bad men can create good art. Some people have no problem separating the creation from the creator. I am not one of those people, nor do I want to be. I recognize that people are complex and cannot be solely defined by their worst deeds, but I can no longer watch “The Cosby Show ,” for example, without thinking of the numerous sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby. Suddenly, his jokes are far less funny.*
While her acknowledgement of the existence of reason is heartwarming, her rejection (and compulsion to let others know about her feelings, because, after all, she is the high priestess) matters.
I cannot separate the art and the artist, just as I cannot separate my blackness and my continuing desire for more representation of the black experience in film from my womanhood, my feminism, my own history of sexual violence, my humanity.
It’s not that Roxane Gay has any inside knowledge that anyone reading People Magazine doesn’t have, putting aside the spin to play upon the perpetual stupidity and religious adherence to feminist orthodoxy, trial be damned. It’s that her feelings matter more than facts or law. Gay finds Parker guilty, perpetually guilty, with no chance of appeal, with no possibility of parole, with no possibility of being innocent, because of “my womanhood, my feminism, my own history of sexual violence, my humanity.”
I cannot value a movie, no matter how good or “important” it might be, over the dignity of a woman whose story should be seen as just as important, a woman who is no longer alive to speak for herself, or benefit from any measure of justice. No amount of empathy could make that possible.
You don’t want to see a movie? Who cares. You want to condemn a man who was acquitted of rape for not just the rape, but the suicide death of a woman when you haven’t got the slightest clue why she took her life? Classic Roxane Gay.
But Gay’s feelz would be irrelevant but for the fact that the Times decided to publish this ignorant drivel. The harm it does to Parker, an acquitted black man, is one thing. But given that there will be a thousand editorials about systemic racism in the legal system, the Times’ hypocrisy in publishing such a moronic screed makes it complicit in Gay’s murder of thought.
Remember this, Times, when you next complain about the treatment of an innocent black man by the legal system. Gay did the lynching, but you provided the rope.
*Bill Cosby has yet to be convicted of anything in a court of law, but in the court of Gay, he’s GUILTY!!!