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Rape Charge Resurfaces As Nate Parker Promotes 'Birth Of A Nation'


Here's a question - can or should we separate a work of art from the artist. It's a question that looms over "The Birth Of A Nation," a new movie by director Nate Parker. The movie screened this weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival. Last month, a disturbing story of a rape charge against Nate Parker resurfaced. Although he was acquitted 15 years ago, the details have divided potential audiences. From Toronto, Bilal Qureshi has more.

BILAL QURESHI, BYLINE: Inside Toronto's lavish Winter Garden Theatre, as the lights dimmed, director Nate Parker stood onstage to introduce the films.


NATE PARKER: Without further ado, "The Birth Of A Nation."


QURESHI: The film is a brutal recreation of Nat Turner's infamous slave rebellion. It set off a bidding war at Sundance earlier this year amid pressure for Hollywood to put more diversity on screen. Then the conversation changed. Film critic B Ruby Rich was in the Toronto audience.

B. RUBY RICH: There was a massive standing ovation. People appeared to really like the film. And you could really sense the palpable relief onstage by the director and cast and crew at being able to stand there and just talk about the film.

QURESHI: Cameron Bailey is the artistic director of the festival, and he moderated the Q and A afterwards. No one asked about the rape charges at the public screening.

CAMERON BAILEY: Those are important conversations to have, and I know that they've been happening within the team that made the film, as well. And so I think that was present. But if you were there to see the movie, I think you wanted to really have that experience of the film and keep the focus on that.

QURESHI: And that's what the studio wanted, as well. At a full-capacity press conference yesterday - an event so carefully managed and tightly wound it was palpable - eight of the actors appeared on stage to talk about the film as a movement, not just a movie. This was the Nat Turner story, not the Nate Parker story, one of the actors said. But after almost an hour with no mention of the controversy, a reporter finally asked the question.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A lot of people felt you should have apologized for what happened 17 years ago the victim and her family. And why haven't you and would you now?

PARKER: Well, this - I'll say this - you know, for one, I've addressed this a few times. And as I've said, I'm sure I'll address it in different forums, but this is a forum for the film.

QURESHI: Nate Parker deflected. He said the festival was not the forum to discuss his personal life. It was a forum for the entire cast. At the very least, the standing ovations in Toronto helped their cause. But "The Birth Of A Nation" will have to prove itself when it faces a much bigger court of public opinion as it opens in the United States next month. For NPR News, I'm Bilal Qureshi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.