A little more than a week ago, The Birth of a Nation star Gabrielle Union wrote a beautifully powerful op-ed for the LA Times, explaining her feelings and reactions upon finding out about director Nate Parker’s 1999 sexual assault charges. The grace and strength in her written words are clearly only a hint of Union’s courage. Her determination to use her publicity as an opportunity to create a very necessary ongoing conversation will clearly not be dissuaded. Appearing with the Nation cast at the movie’s TIFF premiere, Parker’s and Union’s responses to queries about the past were markedly different, with Parker choosing not “to hijack this film with my personal life,” and Union addressing issues head-on, using her platform to work toward healing:
The response has been — tremendous is not a big enough word. Every time I speak about it, whether that be at the airport and somebody slides a paper under the stall and says, ‘Me too, and thank you for talking about this and showing me a way to healing. Thank you’ — that happens daily, that happens all the time, that was way before my op-ed. I’ve been talking about this for over 20 years …. I think we’re all craving acknowledgment that we’re real, that we exist, that we live among you, that we are your mothers, your brothers, your sisters, your lovers. In one of the most important scenes in the film, and Colman [Domingo] and I talk about this all the time, it’s so important for people to see that you are not broken and you are not seen as damaged and you are not seen as less than or forsaken. And there’s a scene where Colman is literally waiting for his wife who has been snatched away from him to be used and abused, and he’s waiting there for her to welcome her back in, and so many of us have not been welcomed back in. And I needed people to see that that is real, that there is hope, there is faith. You are not broken and forsaken …. I think everyone takes something different away from the conversation. Every time I talk about sexual violence I want to puke. There’s never been a time in the last 23 years where I did not want to vomit, but my personal discomfort is nothing compared to being a voice for people who feel absolutely voiceless and powerless. We all want a lot of things, but the only thing we can control is ourselves. So if there’s any message I can give to anyone who’s ever sat in my seat, it’s, ‘You are not broken, you are not alone, you have a tremendous amount of support. Whether you speak out or you opt to keep your pain personal, you are real, you are valid, you are loved, and you are worthwhile.’ And maybe that’s what we all need to hear a little more often, and maybe not from the people we want to hear it from or we need to hear it from. But I’ll keep saying it for a long time, and I’ll continue to say it after this movie has passed.
Nate Parker doesn’t seem to understand it’s his current responses to publicity about his past that is hurting him; he wants to forget what is painful. Everyone wants to forget what’s painful; but, as Gabrielle Union and any person who’s been sexually assaulted knows, that can’t always happen.”The only thing we can control is ourselves,” Dude, seize this moment and use it for good. Whatever the court decision was, show sympathy for the victim. Stop focusing on your own feelings and apologize to her family for the pain they’ve suffered. Join hands with Union — who was utterly blindsided by this revelation from your past — and give her, give all victims some sign that you aren’t still that nineteen-year-old guy making all the wrong decisions. Because the way you’re acting is only feeding into our darkest fears about what may have happened all those years ago; you’re creating a reality no one can put in the past.
For now, there is only one person who is truly promoting The Birth of a Nation as the “honest confrontation” Nate Parker would believe we all should have; one person who may be able to convince wary audiences to see this film. That person is Gabrielle Union. Please take the time to read her full comments.