'Birth of a Nation' cast deflect rape controversy to spotlight film

Sat Sep 10, 2016 5:47pm EDT
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

TORONTO (Reuters) - "The Birth of a Nation" director Nate Parker and his cast are playing challenging parts this weekend as they try to keep the spotlight trained on their acclaimed slavery drama while acknowledging concern about a rape case involving Parker.

The day after "Birth of a Nation" received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 36-year-old writer, director and lead actor didn't shy away from questions on Saturday about his 2001 trial and acquittal on rape charges that have dominated conversation around the film.

But during a TV interview with Reuters, he swerved the conversation back to the film about slave preacher Nat Turner, who led a rebellion in Virginia in 1831, and his role in American history.

"The reality is I've addressed this thing," Parker told Reuters. "Four hundred people worked on this film, maybe more ... this Nat Turner journey I think is so important because of what it can do for America."

"I really wanted to say," he added, "'hey, this is about the film, let's keep it about the film, let's see what we can get from the film.'"

The movie wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and was seen as a strong 2017 Oscar contender. But the controversy over the rape case has the potential to affect the film's marketing and jeopardize its awards season appeal.

Fox Searchlight, the studio that bought the film for a Sundance record of $17.5 million, is a savvy awards season campaigner with a few recent best picture Oscars to its name.

The film, out in U.S. theaters on October 7, debuted in Toronto on Friday night at a red carpet premiere, where no video cameras were allowed and security was tight around the venue.   Continued...

Director Nate Parker arrives for the premiere of the film The Birth Of a Nation at TIFF the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, September 9, 2016.    REUTERS/Fred Thornhill