Riding high from The Birth of a Nation anticipated release, actor Nate Parker recently opened up about the 1999 incident where he was accused of rape by another Penn State student.

“Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life,” Parker told Variety. “It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is” — he took a long silence — “I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”

He revealved similar sentiments about the case in an interview with Deadline.

“I was sure it would come up,” Parker said. “It is there, on my Wikipedia page, the Virginia Pilot … I stand here, a 36-year-old man, 17 years removed from one of the most painful … [he wells up at the memory] moments in my life. And I can imagine it was painful, for everyone. I was cleared of everything, of all charges. I’ve done a lot of living, and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.”

Parker, a then wrestler for Penn State, was suspended from the team, arrested and charged with rape. He transferred to a college in Oklahoma and was later acquitted in 2001.

The Nat Turner biopic written, directed and produced by Parker received a $17.5 million deal from Fox Searchlight when it debuted at Sundance in January. The studio’s deal became the largest in Sundance history. Now, the story of America’s bloodiest slave revolt is under scrutiny, but not solely because of Parker’s recent remarks.

The 18-year-old accused both Parker and his college roommate, Jean Celestin, of raping her while she was unconscious at Parker’s off-campus apartment on August 21, 1999. Celestin co-wrote Birth of a Nation. Parker admitted he and his accuser had sex, but he told police it was consensual. Parker avoided jail time. His roommate didn’t get off so easy. Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. He later appealed, but a second trial was tossed out because the victim chose not to testify again. The unnamed victim sued Penn State and won a $17,500 settlement out of court.

A third party there at the time of the reported rape testified to the victim not appearing to be in distress while having sex with Parker. He told the court that Parker “motioned” him and Celestin to join in the sexual act with a “smirk on his face.” The man testified that he declined Parker’s offer, but Celestin participated. He said he watched the three for “a minute, a minute and a half” then left the apartment.

Celestin is pictured here on the left beside Olympic wrestler, Kerry McCoy and Parker.

Photo: kerrytherealmccoy

In an email to Deadline, Celestin said, “This was something that I experienced as a college student 17 years ago and was fully exonerated of. I have since moved on and been focusing on my family and writing career. I have several exciting book and film projects that I am working on and that I am looking forward to.”

Sources told Variety that studio executives are “assessing the fallout” and were unaware of Parker’s rape allegations at the time of the deal. The rape case is listed on Parker’s Wikipedia page and has been the focus of media articles over the years. Parker’s camp met with the studio Monday. There’s now a possibility he won’t participate in any interviews until the film premieres next month at the Toronto Film.

Fox Searchlight released a statement on Friday involving Parker’s recent comments.

“Fox Searchlight 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 also stars Aunjanue Ellis, Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union, and is set to debut October 7th.

While the studio’s next move is unclear, the public continues to sound off on Parker’s past.

Click here to read the witness testimony from the night of the incident. Prosecutor and defense closing arguments are available as well. The criminal complaint can be found here.

Parker recently announced The Birth of a Nation fellowship for young filmmakers of color.

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