Nate Parker

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Nate Parker
Nate Parker in 2014
Born (1979-11-18) November 18, 1979 (age 43)
Occupation(s)Actor, film director, producer, screenwriter
Years active2004–present
Sarah DiSanto
(m. 2007)

Nate Parker (born November 18, 1979)[1] is an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. He has appeared in Beyond the Lights, Red Tails, The Secret Life of Bees, The Great Debaters, Arbitrage, Non-Stop, Felon, and Pride.[2] Parker's directorial debut feature film, The Birth of a Nation, in which he also starred, made history at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival when Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired the distribution rights for $17.5 million, breaking 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] The film was ultimately unsuccessful in wide release and acclaim, after rape allegations against Parker resurfaced.[4]

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 Parker was 11. 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.[5]

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.


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][6][7][8]

Parker earned a full scholarship to wrestle at Penn State University.[9] At Penn State, Parker was nationally ranked as a freshman.[10]

After transferring to the University of Oklahoma, Parker continued to be ranked as a redshirt junior 141-pound (64 kg) wrestler.[11][12] 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.[13]



Parker, who was working as a computer programmer, was discovered by Los Angeles talent manager Jon Simmons while attending an event in Dallas with a model friend.[14] Simmons had Parker audition and put himself on tape, and then encouraged Parker to move to Los Angeles where he gradually found work as an actor.[15][16]

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 supposed 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.[17][18] In 2007, he had a small role in Pride, about an African American swim team.[19]

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.[20] 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",[21] while John Clark of the New York Daily News described the role as that of a "silver-tongued orator and ladies' man".[20] Other reviewers also noted the nuances of the character.[22][23] 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.[24][25] Parker would develop a continuing relationship with Wiley College.[26]

in 2008, Parker 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.[27] In Felon, Parker played a rookie guard dealing with inner turmoil.[28] Parker appeared as Private Jim Lidford in Tunnel Rats, a 2008 German-Canadian war suspense film which was based on the factual duties of tunnel rat soldiers during the Vietnam War. The film stars Michael Paré, Brandon Fobbs and Wilson Bethel, and was written and directed by Uwe Boll.[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, and 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 against 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 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.[37][38][39] 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 escorts for the World War II bombers in the face of Nazi fighter 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's.[46] In Arbitrage, Parker's talents were underutilized as the son of a chauffeur who gets caught in a murder coverup, according to David Denby of The New Yorker.[47] Nonetheless, Ty Burr of The Boston Globe notes that Parker's portrayal of the Harlem native is the only sympathetic character of the film.[48] Travers notes the role provides Richard Gere's elitist character with his only interactions with a diverse character in the film.[49] Parker's third and final film of 2012 was Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer. Parker played a gang member named Box, whose role was not central to the film progression according to Phillips,[50] although convincingly menacing according to Smith.[51]

In 2013, he had a supporting role in Ain't Them Bodies Saints that Richard Brody of The New Yorker described as being a bar owner who is among an "enticing array of characters".[52] The role was minor according to Scott.[53]

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 act in certain character roles. The video was later taken down and is no longer available.[54][55] In 2014, Parker also stated he would not take roles, such as gay characters, that he considered to be "emasculating".[56]

Kate Taylor of The Globe and Mail described Parker's performance as a novelist with writer's block in the 2014 film About Alex as one of the more real performances in the film despite the "wrote" feel to the emotional developments.[57] Mike D'Angelo of The A.V. Club also found the crises and conflicts that Parker's character was involved in to be petty.[58] Parker's independent short film #AmeriCan was nominated in the Outstanding Independent Short category at the Black Reel Awards of 2015 and won.[59][60]

That same year, Parker reunited with Prince-Blythewood, playing the male lead in her film Beyond the Lights. He was nominated for a 2015 Black Reel Award for Best Actor and an Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.[59][61] In Parker's role as a police officer moonlighting as a bodyguard, his onscreen chemistry with co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw was praised by Dana Stevens of Slate.[62] Stevens noted Parker was destined for more substantive performances.[62] The story was hailed as a well-written believable romance with depth by many critics such as Travers and Ebiri,[63][64] earning an 82% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[65]

In the airplane terrorism mystery film Non-Stop, Parker plays a computer programmer.[66][67] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times notes that Parker's talents are well-employed in his supporting role.[68][69] In Every Secret Thing, Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times found Parker and his detective partner Elizabeth Banks to have been overwhelmed in their roles.[70] Travers also found the detectivework to be uncompelling.[71] Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter found Parker's performance to have had its moments.[72]

Parker played the role of Slim in the 2015 survival film, Eden. The film was directed by Shyam Madiraju, co-produced by Parker, Jaume Collet-Serra and Shyam Madiraju, and stars Ethan Peck, Jessica Lowndes, Diego Boneta, James Remar and Sung Kang.[73][74][75]


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.[76][77]

For over seven years, Parker worked on making a film based on the life of Nat Turner.[78] 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.[79]

The Birth of a Nation attracted increased scrutiny due to rumored Oscar nominations, and because the film itself depicts a brutal rape, the 1999 rape allegations against Parker received significant press coverage.[80][81] Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio releasing the film, went into damage control mode.[82] 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."[83] Parker chose to deflect questions about his past legal problems while doing press for The Birth of a Nation at the Toronto Film Festival.[84] Shortly thereafter, Parker and his handlers chose to cut press interviews short when questions came up about his involvement with the alleged rape and its impact on the marketing of the film.[85] Parker curated and produced The Birth of a Nation: The Inspired By Album along with Atlantic Records Film & Television President and CEO, Craig Kallman which is the companion album for the movie “Birth of a Nation” released in 2016. The protagonist of the film as a platform for lyrical content inspired the album. It featured prominent music artists, including Lecrae, Meek Mill, The Game, Ne-Yo, Nas, Gucci Mane, Wale, Pusha T, and Vic mensa.[86][87][88][89]

The sister of Parker's alleged victim said the invention of a rape scene and Parker playing the avenging hero caused her and her family immense pain.[90] To try to defuse the public backlash, Bron Studios hired The Glover Park Group and Don McPherson to give Parker media training and public relations advice.[91] In an October 2016 60 Minutes interview, Parker maintained that he was innocent of the crime and that he did not feel guilty about it, but conceded that, from the perspective of a 36-year-old man, he had done something morally wrong.[92][93]

In August 2016, Parker was honored with the Sundance Institute's Vanguard Award.[94]

In evaluating the impact of the public's reaction to Parker's alleged 1999 rape of a fellow Penn State student, a film producer told The Hollywood Reporter, about Parker's directing career, "His inability to act like he cared that people invested a whole lot of money in him — sorry. You go into the 'life is too short' category." Noting that the first half of the New York Times review of The Birth of a Nation is taken up with the controversy, this person adds, "No matter what Nate Parker makes, ... this will always be the first paragraph."[91] Other industry insiders note that, "unlike [Mel] Gibson — or Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, both accused of sexual assault (Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse) — Parker is just beginning his directing career and has not built up an acclaimed body of work that might encourage some to say they are willing to separate the artist from the art."[91]

In 2019, Parker wrote, directed, and starred in the film American Skin, which had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August 2019.[95][96] Following its release, American Skin has received $4 million over a fortnight and finished in the top 10 on FandangoNow, Google Play, and Spectrum's PVOD rental charts.[97][98] Becoming one of the highest grossing titles for its distributor, Vertical Entertainment on PVOD.[99] The Venice Film Festival’s Sconfini Section awarded the prize of "Best Film" to American Skin on September 7, 2019, the first film addressing the racial injustice theme to have won in the category.[100]

Parker's next film is Solitary, an American drama film written, directed, and produced by Nate Parker and stars David Oyelowo, Barry Pepper and Jimmie Fails.[101][102]

Parker directed 10 episodes of Baselines a web series about a family based in Los Angeles intent on protecting their son, Jamiel Chambers, and his basketball dreams from the dangers of inner-city American life.[103][104]

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.[105][106] Wiley has announced it will host a new film school named The Nate Parker School of Film and Drama.[26]

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.[5] 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.[5] Inspired by his experience with The Great Debaters, Parker began working with a Brooklyn initiative called Leadership and Literacy through Debate.[107]

Nate Parker Foundation[edit]

The Nate Parker Foundation was founded in 2015 and is based in Brooklyn, New York.[108][109] In 2016, the foundation established the Nate Parker Summer Film Institute at Wiley College which was held yearly to use film as a medium of social transformation with 31 students who are either from Africa or of African descent.[110] The foundation received the first grant to make the HBCU Storytellers Project by the Kellogg Foundation’s Racial Healing and Reconciliation Fund in 2017. The grant covered four short documentaries which address racial issues and stereotypes.[111] The first film series funded by the grant, Just Mercy, has received four NAACP Image awards, Outstanding Ensemble Cast, Outstanding Supporting Actor, Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture, and Outstanding Motion Picture.[112] In 2018, the foundation has received funding from the Ford Foundation and private stakeholders.[113]

Allegation of rape[edit]

In 1999, while a sophomore at Penn State University, Parker and his roommate and wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a female fellow student.[114][115][116][117] The accuser stated that Parker and Celestin raped her while she was intoxicated and unconscious, and that she was unsure of how many people had been involved.[118][119][120] She also stated that the two harassed her after she pressed charges, and that they hired a private investigator who showed her picture around campus, revealing her identity, which Parker and Celestin denied.[121] Parker and Celestin were charged with rape soon after the incident.[122] Celestin was found to be guilty while Parker was acquitted.[123] 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,[124] later raised to two to four years per state sentencing guidelines.[125] His conviction was later overturned on appeal.[126]

The accuser dropped out of Penn State the following year, in 2000.[127] She later filed a complaint against the university for failing to protect her from harassment, which was settled with Penn State for $17,500 in 2002.[128][127]

Parker was initially suspended from Penn State's wrestling team, before being reinstated in 2000 while facing trial. Within weeks a female student worker accused him of exposing himself to her. The student did not go to the police and Penn State dropped the matter.[129][130] After the trial, Parker 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.[11][118][131]

In 2012, the accuser committed suicide.[132]

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.[133] The couple have three daughters in addition to two more daughters Parker had from previous relationships.[134][135]

Parker has said that he considers himself a Christian, and that he grew up in the church.[136]

According to a DNA analysis, some of Parker's ancestry is from the Tikar people of modern-day Cameroon.[137]



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 Non-Stop Zack White
About Alex Ben
Every Secret Thing Kevin Jones
Beyond the Lights Kaz Nicol
2015 Eden Slim
2016 The Birth of a Nation Nat Turner Also director, writer and producer
2019 American Skin Lincoln Johnson Also director and writer
TBA Solitary Filming; director, writer, producer


Year Title Role Notes
2004 Cold Case R. J. Holden Season 1, episode 22: "The Plan"
2005 Kurtlar vadisi Male Model Season 4, episodes 96 and 97
2006 The Unit Darryl Season 2, episode 11: "Silver Star"

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Refs.
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

Published works[edit]

Nate Parker is the author of the book Birth of a Nation: Nat Turner and the Making of a Movement in which he writes about the resistance against oppression. The first half of his book is about Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in the 19th century, and the other half explores the historical context of his rebellion and how it is relevant to modern events and discourse. The book was later adapted into a motion picture, The Birth of a Nation, which was also the directorial debut of Nate Parker.[138]


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