‘Birth of a Nation’ Receives Standing Ovation at Toronto International Film Festival Despite Nate Parker Controversy

Birth of A Nation
Nate Parker (center) wrote, directed and stars in ‘Birth of a Nation,’ a film about a 19th-century slave revolt in New England. Fox Searchlight Pictures

And the votes are in. The Birth of a Nation received a standing ovation that lasted nearly two minutes at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, September 9, despite the recent controversy surrounding director Nate Parker.

The film, which depicts the life of slave-turned-preacher Nat Turner in 1831, was very well received as about 20 members of the cast and crew, including Parker, took the stage at the end for a Q&A, but only a few questions came from the audience.

Prior to the screening, critics were unsure how the historic film would be received in light of Parker’s controversial past. (In a post to Facebook in August, Parker, now 36, wrote that he was “devastated” by the news that a woman who had accused him of rape had killed herself in 2012.)

According to USA Today, however, Parker’s past was not brought into the screening on Friday.

“This has been such a labor of love for us and we are just desperately proud to present it to you,” Parker said before the lights went down. The audience stood for nearly two full minutes after the credits began to roll afterward.

Just last week, Gabrielle Union, who stars in The Birth of a Nation opposite Parker, penned an honest op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times about the uneasiness that the controversy has brought about for her.

“Rape is a wound that throbs long after it heals,” the 43-year-old actress wrote. Union was raped at gunpoint at the age of 19, she revealed during an appearance on The View in February 2014. “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.”

“Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” she continued. “As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly. 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.’”

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