Nate Parker is an American actor and filmmaker who is under fire for a rape incident from his college days in 1999. You probably remember him from ‘The Great Debaters’ (2012) and ‘Beyond the Lights’ (2014). I think it rather ironic that the scandal he is currently associated with is something one would relate with the troubled young man he played in ‘The Great Debaters.’
In the light of the resurrection of the rape case, the American Film Institute cancelled the already planned screening and Q & A for ‘The Birth of a Nation’-Parker’s baby and directorial debut- which is also scheduled to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) in September. Speculations about the fact that this rape issue will affect the chances of the movie are rife and this is quite painful for many because the movie is so pivotal in that it symbolises the taking back and owning of a narrative that had hitherto been unjustly and dubiously upheld in the form of the racist 1915 version of the movie. Should we then love the creative artiste and hate the crime or to put it differently love the creative output but hate the creative artiste and his crimes?
Sex scandals of any kind are not so easy to shake off and the karmic cycle of life ensures this fact to put the fear of God in us all but foresight and the ability to learn from the mistakes of others is sadly not common to all.
Sex scandals raise perplexing questions about what the offender is capable of and these mirror the trepidations in the hearts of those for whom the betrayal of the offender is more significant; a spouse or even the victim. But what is most interesting is that the periphery of the hurt could expand to include a whole nation as we saw in the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal.
I have always found it fascinating that in the West one misstep by people in the public eye can raise great furore and indignation. And though average people do the very same things every day and everywhere, violating public trust is another thing entirely because by stepping into the arena where all eyes are on you; whether you are a celebrity or politician, you are in a sense asking to be accountable to those with whom you have to do and they will hold you to that somewhat tacit agreement.
As for the creative artiste, when you come out of that creative closet; where you are your only fan, audience and worst critic, to share your oeuvre with the world you share yourself. The case of Hollywood film director, Roman Polanski who drugged and had sex with a thirteen year old girl in 1977 comes to mind as does the 80-year-old filmmaker, Woody Allen whose former step daughter has continually accused of sexual molestation when she was seven.
Much of Hollywood has continued to defend both film directors with the fact that they are both brilliant filmmakers. I love Allen’s work and I wonder if I should feel terribly guilty for still considering ‘Blue Jasmine’ and ‘Midnight in Paris’ some of my great screenwriting and filmmaking inspirations in spite of the controversy around Mr. Allen.
This matter of the artiste, his creativity, his sins and the audience’s response and responsibility to all three have divided the internet since the Nate Parker rape story was resurrected. The two main arguments put forward; yes we can separate the artiste from his art and no we can’t, are justified.
From my musings I think thus: for those who say boycott the creative outputs of these sexual offenders, I ask what about the many other creative people whose sexual offences or predilections have not come to light or to our awareness but whose creativity we enjoy and even pay for? And for those who say we can separate the artiste from his art hence his acts (bad acts I presume, because good isn’t exactly newsworthy, is it?), I ask if the victim of the artiste’s inability to keep it in his pants was your mother, or sister, or girlfriend or friend, wouldn’t you feel much differently?
America’s seeming zero tolerance for impropriety and impunity on the part of those they hold in high esteem is notable. It is not by any standard perfect and really anyone can smear or witch-hunt their enemy or anyone they hate under that guise especially now with the prevalent spate of careful and calculated internet hackings but if we can look past the hypocrisy, it really is a great way of ensuring that no one is above the law. And might I add that we on this side of the divide can learn a thing or two here? Or wasn’t it just a few months ago that three Nigerian lawmakers were accused by the US government of sexual misconduct during a visit to the US for the International Visitor Leadership Program?
It is not surprising that the matter quickly died out like a candle flame extinguished between two fingers although one takes notice of the failure of the accusers to prove their allegation even when the opportunity was availed them. Or is it the ridiculous amount of unsolved murder cases in this country? To get into trouble or to find oneself in the sort of trouble that requires the intervention of law enforcement is to sink into greater misfortune. You are effectively as they say, “on your own.”
If Nate Parker were Nigerian we would be having a slightly different conversation and let’s just say the question about the impact of the scandal on his film would not be the thrust of that conversation as it now is in America. And why should it? There’s far much bigger fish to fry; people to be bashed and torn apart.
For starters Nigerian twitter-sphere would be agog and many bloggers and social commentators who have large following online would have waded in. There would be a hot debate with a lot of focus on the female victim who committed suicide. Many playing detective would have unearthed information about her. Some would say she had quite the reputation among the fellows. Some would say she got what she deserved because she was in a questionable place at a questionable time so it followed that the repercussions would be questionable. Some would argue that since Parker and she had been sexual partners before the incident the rape cry was not plausible. Others would wax philosophical about the stupidity and vanity of suicide while the religious ones would rebuke her for sinning against God by taking her life as that meant she would go to hell.
However, amidst the babel of voices there would be those who would draw attention to both parties and lament the bigger problems of broken homes, dysfunctional families and the inadequacy and reticence of parents, society and religion in schooling young people about sex and sexuality. Hear Parker at a recent screening of his film:
I hurt a lot of women. That was normal for me, in respect to how I treated them emotionally. I was introduced to sex in a certain way. The way I treated women, objectified women-my manhood was defined by how many women I could be with. I was a dog. I was wrong. That type of male culture, that type of hyper-masculinity where your manhood is determined by how many women you get, to say ‘yes’ is destructive.
The CBC News report from which the aforementioned was culled also stated that the actor said he didn’t understand the concept of consent as a teenager because he never learned it.
Need I say more? Lola Shoneyin’s 2012 TEDxEuston talk titled Boys, Sex and Control gives a glimpse into the dire straits we are in as regards how we raise our children-especially the males-in this society. The only reason the whole world now knows about this issue is because the female in question came forward and someone paid attention and on this count, it doesn’t matter if Nate Parker were Nigerian or not because everywhere in the world a female is violated it takes strength and courage for her to come forward and it is the obligation, responsibility, humanity and justice of the society to pay attention to her.