The Toronto International Film Festival is moving forward with plans to screen Nate Parker’s Sundance hit The Birth of a Nation as part of the upcoming event’s slate of special presentations, festival organizers said Wednesday. The news comes as Parker’s 1999 sexual assault trial has been the subject of renewed attention online.
“TIFF is proud to help bring The Birth of a Nation and the important story it tells to audiences,” says a statement released by the festival. “We will present the film as planned.”
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Parker’s accuser, a young woman who claimed the Birth of a Nation director-writer-star, along with the film’s co-writer, Jean Celestin, sexually assaulted her while they were students at Penn State University in 1999, died by suicide in 2012.
Parker was charged with rape after the then-18-year-old came forward with the claims, though he was later acquitted in a 2001 trial. A jury found Celestin guilty of sexual assault, and he was sentenced to six months in prison. (The conviction was later overturned.)
Parker, who continues to maintain his innocence in the matter, addressed the woman’s death in a lengthy Facebook post on Tuesday night.
“I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family,” he wrote. “I cannot — nor do I want to ignore the pain she endured during and following our trial. While I maintain my innocence that the encounter was unambiguously consensual, there are things more important than the law. There is morality; no one who calls himself a man of faith should even be in that situation. As a 36-year-old father of daughters and person of faith, I look back on that time as a teenager and can say without hesitation that I should have used more wisdom. … I see now that I may not have shown enough empathy even as I fought to clear my name.”
Fox Searchlight, the distributor behind Best Picture-winning films like 12 Years a Slave and Birdman, acquired The Birth of a Nation for a record $17.5 million out of the Sundance Film Festival in January. Its September international premiere at TIFF will kick off a hoped-for awards run for the film, which tells the story of Nat Turner, a slave and preacher who orchestrated a rebellion against his oppressors in the antebellum South. Fox Searchlight still plans to release the film in North America on Oct. 7.