(Reuters) - Eight months ago, director Nate Parker’s movie “The Birth of a Nation” was already being acclaimed as a 2017 Oscar front-runner with its powerful story of a 19th century slave rebellion.
This week, less than a month before the movie’s award season campaign gets underway, Parker, who was acquitted on a rape charge 17 years ago, is having to address the issue again after reports that his accuser committed suicide in 2012.
On Tuesday Parker, 36, said he was devastated to learn recently that his female accuser had taken her own life at the age of 30 in 2012.
Movie studio Fox Searchlight says it is standing by the movie, which will get its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, despite speculation in Hollywood that the re-surfacing of the case could impact the film’s marketing, and its Oscar chances.
The victim has not been named but her brother told Hollywood trade paper Variety this week that his sister was haunted by the incident that took place while she and Parker were at Penn State university in 1999 and subsequently took her own life.
“Over the last several days, a part of my past - my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault - has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation,” Parker wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.
“I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow,” he added, noting that he is now married and has five daughters.
Fox Searchlight bought the rights to “The Birth of a Nation” at the Sundance Film Festival in January for a record $17.5 million. Parker, who was previously little known in Hollywood, wrote, directed and stars in the film which tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in Virginia in 1831.
“Nate Parker’s ‘Birth of a Nation’ Faces Uphill Battle Amid Resurfaced Rape Claims,” ran a headline in the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday.
Trade publication The Wrap reported on Wednesday that several fake posters for the movie had appeared in Los Angeles with the word “rapist” added under the face of Parker’s character.
Fox Searchlight said in a statement that the studio “is aware of the incident that occurred while Nate Parker was at Penn State. We also know that he was found innocent and cleared of all charges. We stand behind Nate and are proud to help bring this important and powerful story to the screen.”
“The Birth of a Nation” is scheduled to open in U.S. movie theaters on October 7 as Hollywood’s long awards season gets underway. Oscar nominations are announced on January 24.
The family of the woman gave a statement to the New York Times saying they “appreciate that after all this time, these men are being held accountable for their actions. However, we are dubious of the underlying motivations that bring this to present light after 17 years, and we will not take part in stoking its coals.”
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Clive McKeef