Actress Gabrielle Union, a vocal sexual assault survivor, found herself on the defensive as some questioned why she was appearing in the upcoming film "Birth of a Nation" with co-star and director Nate Parker, who was accused and acquitted of sexual assault in 1999.
Parker admitted he had sex with his accuser, but claimed it was consensual in an interview with Variety. The woman said she was unconscious, and did not consent to having sex with Parker. She also claimed that she was stalked and harassed by Parker after she reported the incident to the police.
In 2012 Parker's accuser committed suicide.
The revelation about Parker's past has prompted some to call for a boycott of the film, and others to hurls barbs at Union for being affiliated with the production.
Union penned an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times where she addressed the controversy head on.
"Twenty-four years ago I was raped at gunpoint in the cold, dark backroom of the Payless shoe store where I was then working. Two years ago I signed on to a brilliant script called “The Birth of a Nation,” to play a woman who was raped," Union wrote. "One month ago I was sent a story about Nate Parker, the very talented writer, director and star of this film. Seventeen years ago Nate Parker was accused and acquitted of sexual assault. Four years ago the woman who accused him committed suicide."
Union says she was unaware of the past allegations against Parker when she signed on the film, which depicts the slave revolt led by Nat Turner, played by Parker.
The actress, married to Chicago Bulls star Dwayne Wade, said since Parker’s past was revealed to her she has been in a "state of stomach-churning confusion"
"As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly. On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said "no," silence certainly does not equal "yes."
Union added after reading 700 pages of the trial transcript, she'll never know what actually occurred between Parker and his accuser that night. "But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize," she said.