Birth of a Nation Stalls with $7 Million Opening Amid Nate Parker Rape Allegations
The eagerly anticipated historical drama opened to a middling $7.1 million at the box office this past weekend, amid a firestorm of scrutiny and outrage directed at filmmaker Nate Parker over his involvement in a college rape trial.
The film, which chronicles the 1831 slave uprising of Nat Turner, arrived with towering expectations: It was snapped up for a record $17.5 million at Sundance earlier this year and was heralded by many as a welcome salve to the #OscarsSoWhite uproar that bogged last year’s diversity-challenged Academy Awards.
Still, industry buzz, warm reviews and rapid-fire media coverage couldn’t overcome the public’s tepid response to the film, which had been pegged as a strong awards contender and needed a galvanized box-office showing to help boost its prospects.
Instead, the twisty thriller The Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt, nabbed the weekend’s top spot, pulling in a sturdy $24.7 on its first weekend.VIDEO: Inside Birth of a Nation Director Nate Parker’s 1999 Rape Trial //players.brightcove.net/416418724/rJSWQ1RE_default/index.min.js
Parker, who wrote, produced, directed and stars in Birth of Nation, was thrust under an intense spotlight after news of his involvement in the case resurfaced this past summer. The alleged victim, a former classmate at Penn State University, accused both Parker and his friend, Jean Celestin, of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. She committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 30.
Parker, who was acquitted, has maintained his innocence, asserting that the sexual encounter was consensual. Celestin, a collaborator of Parker’s on Birth of Nation, was convicted but later acquitted on an appeal after the witness declined to testify.
During a recent appearance on 60 Minutes, Parker, 36, said he did not “feel guilty” about the events that prompted the accusations and insisted that he was “falsely accused.”
“You know, I went to court. And I sat in trial,” he said. “You know, I was vindicated. I was proven innocent.”
Parker is expected to make an appearance this week at the London Film Festival, where Birth of the Nation is on the screening slate.