The American Film Institute is postponing a planned screening of The Birth of a Nation and Q&A with the film’s writer-director-star Nate Parker, in the wake of renewed attention on a 17-year-old rape case against the filmmaker.
The event had been set to take place at the Los Angeles-based film school on Friday. AFI dean Jan Schuette made the announcement late Tuesday, EW has confirmed.
“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” Schuette said in a message sent to students. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
Parker and Birth of a Nation co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at Penn State University in 1999. Parker was charged, 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.) It was later revealed that the alleged victim died by suicide in 2012.
Schuette added that a screening of Birth of a Nation would take place later in the year. Friday’s “Opening Day” event for second-year students will now be a screening of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, which will be followed by a Q&A with director Edward Zwick (who is also an executive producer on The Birth of a Nation and a member of the AFI Board of Directors) and co-writer Marshall Herskovitz.
Fox Searchlight acquired Birth of a Nation for a record $17.5 million at January’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is slated to screen at the Toronto Film Festival last month — a screening that festival organizers said last week would go forward as planned — before a theatrical release set for Oct. 7.