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Nate Parker

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This article is about the American actor. For the English actor sometimes known as Nat Parker, see Nathaniel Parker.
Nate Parker
Nate Parker in 2014
Born (1979-11-18) November 18, 1979 (age 36)
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
Occupation Actor, director, producer, writer.
Years active 2004–present
Spouse(s) Sarah DiSanto (m. 2007)
Children 6

Nate Parker (born November 18, 1979)[1] is an American actor, director, producer, writer, and musical performer who has appeared in Beyond the Lights, Red Tails, The Secret Life of Bees, The Great Debaters, Arbitrage, Non-Stop, Felon and Pride.[2] Parker made history at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival with his directorial debut feature film The Birth of a Nation when Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired the distribution rights to the film for $17.5 million, which broke the record for the most paid for a Sundance Film Festival production surpassing Little Miss Sunshine, which had been acquired by Searchlight for $10 million ten years earlier.[3]

Early life[edit]

Parker was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Carolyn Whitfield, a 17-year-old single mother. Although Parker's mother did not marry his biological father, Parker had a relationship with his father until his father died from cancer when he was eleven. Parker's mother's first husband gave Parker his surname. After a divorce, Parker's mother then married her second husband, Walter Whitford, who was in the United States Air Force and was stationed in Bath, Maine.[1] Parker has four younger sisters.[4]

At the age of 14, after problems at home with his stepfather, Parker moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to live with his maternal uncle, Jay Combs. Combs, a former wrestler, encouraged Parker to join the wrestling team at Princess Anne High School. He then attended Churchland High School and continued on their wrestling team, before moving to Great Bridge High School before attending Penn State University on a wrestling scholarship in 1999. After a gang rape allegation, he later transferred to and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2002, where he was on the wrestling team and received a degree in management science and information systems.[5][6][7]

Career[edit]

Wrestling[edit]

Parker placed third in the Virginia High School League state wrestling championships as a junior while attending Churchland High School. Parker's mother moved to the Great Bridge High School district so Parker could participate in its powerhouse wrestling program. He was a member of the 1997–98 state champion Great Bridge wrestling team and was a state champion 135-pound (61 kg) wrestler who placed third in the High School National Wrestling Championships, while becoming a high school All-American.[1][8][9][10]

Parker earned a full scholarship to wrestle at Penn State University.[11] At Penn State, Parker was nationally ranked as a freshman.[12]

After transferring to the University of Oklahoma, Parker continued to be ranked as a redshirt junior 141-pound (64 kg) wrestler.[5][13] In 2002, Parker placed fifth at the National Collegiate Athletic Association wrestling championships and became an All-American at Oklahoma. Following his fifth-place finish, he was ranked second nationally as a redshirt senior.[14]

Acting[edit]

Parker was discovered while attending an event in Dallas with a model friend.[15] Los Angeles talent manager Jon Simmons noticed Parker, had him audition, put himself on tape, then encouraged Parker to move to Los Angeles where he gradually found work as an actor.[16][17]

In 2006, Parker played the male lead in Rome & Jewel, a hip-hop take on Romeo and Juliet that got mothballed and re-released in 2008. Parker's title character, who is suppose to be the modern day Romeo, was a Compton youth with both tenderness and toughness. Despite a troubled script, Parker's rap performance earned comparisons to Will Smith from Nathan Lee of The New York Times.[18][19] In 2007, he had a small role in Pride, about an African American swim team. Parker was tasked with depicting the visual expectations of an athletic proficiency that was new to him but very familiar to the audience.[20]

In 2007, Parker played the role of Henry Lowe in the Denzel Washington-directed film, The Great Debaters. The character was based on the real-life debater, Henry Heights from Wiley College. Parker attended a debate boot camp to make his performance more authentic.[21] He portrayed a multifaceted character. Stephen Holden of The New York Times described Parker's portrayal as having depicted a "handsome, clean-cut youth with a lurking bad-boy streak".[22] while John Clark of the New York Daily News described the role as that of a "silver-tongued orator and ladies' man".[21] Other reviewers also noted the nuances of the character.[23][24] Parker also performed on the soundtrack.[citation needed] Parker and co-stars Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington were all nominated for the 2008 NAACP Image Awards in the best supporting actor category, which Denzel Washington won.[25][26] Parker would develop a continuing relationship with Wiley College.[27]

Parker next performed in a pair of low budget movies: Felon and Tunnel Rats. Despite these early light roles, Parker's onscreen charisma and general je ne sais quoi showed, earning Parker comparisons to Paul Newman.[28] In Felon, Parker played a rookie guard dealing with inner turmoil.[29] In 2008's The Secret Life of Bees, Parker played the good-hearted love interest of Alicia Keys' character.[30][31] Parker's character has to deal with the challenges of spurned love.[32][33] The movie was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood based on the book of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd.[34]

In the 2010 film Blood Done Sign My Name, which was based on a true story of small town racial turmoil set in a backdrop of belated segregation in 1970,[35] Parker plays a 22-year-old Benjamin Chavis.[36] Parker's Chavis was a teacher who had been born into an affluent African-American family and would later become the Executive Director of the N.A.A.C.P.[37] A. O. Scott of the The New York Times described Parker as "diffident" and his portrayal as "thoughtful, morally serious".[37] Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that events in the film move Parker with both "resolve and rage":[35] Roger Ebert described Parker's Chavis as "energized and angered" in one of the two main storylines of the film that started with Chavis leading an economic boycott after an adverse court verdict.[38] Parker's character was "peripheral" according to The New York Post's Kyle Smith and upstaged according to Scott and Ebert.[39][37][38] However, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune noted that Parker's portrayal infused dimension into Chavis, whose cousin's death was the subject of the film. Phillips noted that the role showed that with the right choices Parker had the potential to be a big star in the future.[40]

In 2012, Parker appeared as a World War II squadron commander in Red Tails, a film portraying Tuskegee Airmen. Parker's character drinks to cope with the stress of the fighter pilot lifestyle. Lou Lumenick of the New York Post praised then-unknown actors Parker and David Oyelowo.[41] In the movie, Parker plays Marty "Easy" Julian who commanded the flight guards for the World War II bombers in the face of Nazi attack planes.[42] While Peter Travers of Rolling Stone noted that Parker shined in his role,[43] Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe felt Oyelowo stood out.[42] Although the story is a fictionalization,[44] Bilge Ebiri of New York and Holden note that the relationship between the two is the story's central one.[45][46] Holden compared Parker's presence to that of Denzel Washington.[46]

In 2014, Parker reunited with Prince-Bythewood playing the male lead in her film Beyond the Lights. His performance was nominated for a Black Reel Award for Best Actor and a Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.

Directing[edit]

In 2012, Parker directed a short film called, #AmeriCAN, which featured La La Anthony and is a thought piece about growing up as a young black person in a racially-divided America.[47][48]

For over seven years, Parker worked on making a film based on the life of Nat Turner.[49] In 2014 he announced that he had funding and was working on assembling his team, and that the film would be called The Birth of a Nation in an ironic reappropriation of the infamously racist 1915 film of the same name.[2] In addition to writing and directing Parker cast himself as Turner. Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer and Gabrielle Union were also cast in key roles.[50]

In August 2016, Parker was honored with the Sundance Institute's Vanguard Award.[51]

Public charity[edit]

Parker sponsors scholarships for youth between the ages of 17 and 25 at East Texas Wiley College through the 100 Men of Excellence Initiative.[52][53] Wiley has announced it will host a new film school named The Nate Parker School of Film and Drama.[27]

Parker has been a supporter of Boys & Girls Clubs of America as well as a program called Peace4Kids, which is a program for foster youths and underprivileged youth in South Los Angeles, California where kids are involved in daily activities that stimulate and nurture creativity and intellect.[4] Parker has coached a wrestling team of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds at Rosemead High School and has assisted in coaching wrestling at Rio Hondo College.[4] Inspired by his experience with The Great Debaters, Parker began working with a Brooklyn initiative called Leadership and Literacy through Debate.[54]

Controversies[edit]

1999 rape charges[edit]

In 1999, while a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University, Parker and his roommate and wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow Penn State student.[55][56][57][58] The unnamed accuser stated that Parker and Celestin raped her while she was intoxicated and unconscious and said she was unsure of how many people had been involved.[6][59] She claimed the two harassed her after she pressed charges, and that they hired a private investigator who showed her picture around campus, revealing her identity.[60] Parker was found not guilty on all four counts brought against him.[61] Celestin, who shares a story credit on The Birth of a Nation, was convicted of sexual assault and received a six month to one year prison sentence in 2001,[62] later raised to two to four years per state sentencing guidelines.[63] Appealing the case on grounds of ineffective counsel at the first trial, Celestin's initial conviction was overturned in 2005 and he was granted a new trial to rehear the charges.[64] Despite the accuser's willingness to testify at a second trial, prosecutors declined because other witnesses had scattered all over the world.[65]

On campus in 2001, students raised concerns that race may have influenced Celestin's initial conviction: Celestin is black (as is Parker), while the accuser and all but one of the jurors were white.[62][66]

Via the Women's Law Project, Parker's accuser filed a complaint against the university for failing to protect her from harassment which was settled with Penn State for $17,500.[67] The alleged harassment consisted of a personal investigator hired by Parker and Celestin flashing her photograph on campus that let her identity be known and subjected her to taunts such as, "There goes the white girl crying rape!"[65] In 2012 she committed suicide.[68]

Debate now rages about how to view this campus sexual assualt in light of modern race relations, especially within the Hollywood context.[69]

Because The Birth of a Nation attracted increased scrutiny due to possible Oscar nominations, and the film itself depicts a brutal rape, there was significant press coverage[6][70] about damage control by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio releasing the film.[61] Interviews in Variety[56] and Deadline[57] were a focus, as was Parker's response to the event in an impassioned Facebook post.[71]

Gabrielle Union, a rape victim and one of the main stars of The Birth of a Nation, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "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.” Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a “no” as a “yes” is problematic at least, criminal at worst."[72] Sources suggest that Parker and Celestin's accuser was either unconscious or extremely drunk when Parker invited Celestin to have sex with her as he was already actively engaged in a sex act with her.[73][74]

After having suffered significant negative publicity for his apologies, Parker chose to deflect questions about his past legal problems while doing press for the Birth of a Nation at the Toronto Film Festivle.[75] Shortly thereafter, Parker and his handlers chose to cut press interviews short when questions came up about his involvment with the alleged rape and its impact on the marketing of the film.[76]

Accusation of homophobia[edit]

In a 2014 interview with BET during publicity for the film Beyond the Lights that included Parker and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Parker stated that in order to "preserve the black man" he would not be willing to portray gay characters. The video was later taken down and is no longer available.[77][78] In 2014, Parker also stated he would not take roles, such as gay roles, that he considered to be "emasculating".[79]

Personal life[edit]

In August 2007, Parker married Sarah DiSanto, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, whom he met while they were attending Penn State. They were married in Erie's Frontier Park.[80] The couple have four daughters in addition to another daughter Parker had from a previous relationship.[81][82] Parker has also adopted his sister's son.[48]

Parker said that he considers himself a Christian, and that he grew up in the church.[83] According to a DNA analysis, some of Parker's ancestry is from the Tikar people of modern day Cameroon.[84]

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes
2005 Dirty Duster
Cruel World Techno
2007 Pride Hakim
The Great Debaters Henry Lowe
2008 Felon Officer Collins
Tunnel Rats Private Jim Lidford
Rome & Jewel Rome
The Secret Life of Bees Neil
2010 Blood Done Sign My Name Ben Chavis
2012 Red Tails Capt. Martin "Easy" Julian
Arbitrage Jimmy Grant
Red Hook Summer Box
2013 Ain't Them Bodies Saints Sweeter
2014 #AmeriCAN Short film
About Alex Ben
Beyond the Lights Kaz Nicol
Every Secret Thing Kevin Jones
Non-Stop Zack White
Eden Slim
2016 The Birth of a Nation Nat Turner director, writer and producer
Television
Year Series Role Notes
2004 Cold Case R. J. Holden Season 1, Episode 22: "The Plan"
2005 Kurtlar vadisi Male Model Season 4, Episodes 96 & 97
2006 The Unit Darryl Season 2, Episode 11: "Silver Star"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Category Recipient Outcome Ref.
2008 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture The Great Debaters Nominated
2009 The Secret Life of Bees Nominated
2012 African-American Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Arbitrage Won
Hamptons International Film Festival Breakthrough Performer Won
2013 Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated
Outstanding Actor Red Tails Nominated
168 Film Festival Best Actor Lu Won
2014 Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actor Ain't Them Bodies Saints Nominated
2015 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Beyond the Lights Nominated
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Actor Nominated
Best Independent Short #AmeriCan Won
2016 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic The Birth of a Nation Won
Audience Award: Dramatic Won
CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year Won

References[edit]

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External links[edit]