The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has weighed in on the controversy engulfing the upcoming historical drama The Birth of a Nation and its star and director Nate Parker since details recently re-emerged about a 17-year-old rape case against the actor and filmmaker.
“With the issue of the movie, the important thing is for people to see it, and enjoy the film, be impressed by the film,” she said. “I think that is what is very important. People need to see this movie.”
Boone Isaacs indicated she has not yet seen Birth of a Nation, which dramatizes Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion. But, she said, “I know just by the conversation that has gone on since Sundance that it’s clearly a movie that filmgoers should go and see. … My belief is that people need to see the movie and judge the movie.”
Boone Isaacs declined to comment on the allegations against Parker, of which he was acquitted in a 2001 trial. “That’s one issue, that’s his personal issue,” she said.
Representatives for the academy did not immediately provide further comment to EW.
The Birth of a Nation had been widely regarded as a serious Oscar contender since it made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in January, winning the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award and selling for $17.5 million, a festival record, to Fox Searchlight. In recent weeks, however, Parker has faced renewed scrutiny over his past, clouding the film’s future.
In 1999, Parker and Penn State roommate Jean Celestin (who co-wrote Birth of a Nation) were charged with raping a fellow student while she was unconscious after a night of drinking. Parker was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted but appealed the verdict and was granted a new trial. The case was never retried because the accuser opted not to testify again. Variety reported earlier this month that she took her own life in 2012.
Parker has maintained his innocence in the matter and addressed the woman’s death in a lengthy Facebook post, expressing “profound sorrow.”
Earlier this week, the American Film Institute postponed a planned screening of the film and a Q&A with Parker. The Toronto International Film Festival is moving forward with plans to screen Birth of a Nation next month, and Fox Searchlight will release the film in theaters nationwide Oct. 7.
Watch Boone Isaacs’ interview below.