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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 step-father, 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. When his great-grandmother got sick, Parker's mother moved back to Hampton Roads, Virginia, where he attended Churchland High School and continued on their wrestling team. Parker then attended Great Bridge High School and was a member of an NCAA-winning wrestling team led by wrestling coach, Steve Martin.[1]

In 1999, Parker attended Penn State University on a wrestling scholarship. 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]



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]


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. In 2007, he had a small role in Pride, about an African American swim team.

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. Parker also performed on the soundtrack.[18][19] 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.[20][21]

In 2008's The Secret Life of Bees, Parker played the love interest of Alicia Keys' character. The movie co-starred Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and Sophie Okonedo and was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood based on the book of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd.[22]

In 2014, Parker reunited with his The Secret Life of Bees director Gina 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.


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.[23][24]

For over seven years, Parker worked on making a film based on the life of Nat Turner.[25] 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.[26]

In August 2016, Parker was honored with the Sundance Institute's Vanguard Award.[27]

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.[28][29]

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.[30]


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.[31][32][33][34] Parker also allegedly invited an additional male person to join him and Celestin in the act, although that person declined.[35] The unnamed accuser claimed that Parker and Celestin raped her while she was intoxicated and unconscious and said she was unsure of how many people had been involved.[36][6] 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.[37] 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,[38] later raised to two to four years per state sentencing guidelines.[39] 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;[40] however, his accuser declined to testify again and prosecution did not pursue the retrial.

On campus in 2001, students raised concerns that race may have influenced Celestin's initial trial; Celestin is black (as is Parker), while the accuser and all but one of the jurors were white.[38][41]

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.[42] She committed suicide in 2012 after two previous attempts, according to court documents.[43]

Because The Birth of a Nation had increased scrutiny due to possible Oscar-nominations, and the film itself depicts a brutal rape, there was significant press coverage[6][44] about damage control by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the studio releasing the film.[45] Interviews in Variety[32] and Deadline[33] were a focus, as was Parker's response to the event in an impassioned Facebook post.[46]

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.[47][48] In 2014, Parker also stated he would not take roles, such as gay roles, that he considered to be "emasculating."[49]

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.[50] The couple have four daughters in addition to another daughter Parker had from a previous relationship.[51][52] Parker has also adopted his sister's son.[24]

Parker said that he considers himself a Christian, and that he grew up in the church.[53] According to a DNA analysis, some of Parker's ancestry is from the Tikar people of modern-day Cameroon.[54]


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
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 [55]
2009 The Secret Life of Bees Nominated [55]
2012 African-American Film Critics Association Best Supporting Actor Arbitrage Won [55]
Hamptons International Film Festival Breakthrough Performer Won [55]
2013 Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [55]
Outstanding Actor Red Tails Nominated
168 Film Festival Best Actor Lu Won [55]
2014 Black Reel Awards Best Supporting Actor Ain't Them Bodies Saints Nominated [55]
2015 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture Beyond the Lights Nominated [55]
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Actor Nominated [55]
Best Independent Short #AmeriCan Won
2016 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic The Birth of a Nation Won [55]
Audience Award: Dramatic Won
CinemaCon Breakthrough Director of the Year Won [55]


  1. ^ a b c d Tucker, Kyle (December 23, 2007). "Nate Parker: From Hampton Roads to Hollywood". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Brown, Emma (April 21, 2014). "Nate Parker's Future Past". Interview. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  3. ^ Coggan, Devan (January 26, 2016). "Fox Searchlight Buys 'The Birth of a Nation' for Record-Breaking Price". Time. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Kent, Alexandyr (December 24, 2007). "Louisiana Movies: Glamour, Geeks and Gumbo: 'The Great Debaters' interviews: Nate Parker plays brilliant, volatile mind". Louisiana Movies. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "Oklahoma Sooners. Player Profile: Nate Parker". University of Oklahoma. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  9. ^ Palmer, Mark (February 6, 2016). "Sundance sensation: Ex-wrestler Parker's 'The Birth of a Nation' film". InterMat. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  10. ^ "House Joint Resolution No. 450 (JH450ER)". Legislative Information System. Virginia General Assembly. March 14, 1998. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  29. ^ Sangweni, Yolanda (August 8, 2012). "Exclusive: Nate Parker on His First Spike Lee Joint, 'Red Hook Summer,' and Loving Brooklyn". Essence. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  35. ^ "Tamerlane Kangas Witness Testimony Trial Transcript". pp. 272–300. Retrieved August 18, 2016. 
  36. ^ "Defendant's Exhibit - Call Exerpt" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  38. ^ a b Schogol, Marc (November 29, 2001). "Penn State will let rapist graduate Jean Celestin was convicted of assaulting a female student. He will get a diploma pending an inquiry.". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved August 17, 2016. 
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  41. ^ "Black leaders desire Celestin to graduate". The Daily Collegian. Pennsylvania State University. December 3, 2001. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  47. ^ Arceneaux, Michael (September 26, 2014). "That's Not How It Works, Nate Parker, That's Not How Any of This Works!". Ebony. 
  48. ^ Marron, Dylan (March 11, 2016). "The Impossibility & Necessity of Queer Men of Color on Screen". Every Single Word. Retrieved August 20, 2016. 
  49. ^ Victorian, Brande (July 11, 2014). "Nate Parker: I Refuse To Be Emasculated Onscreen". Madame Noire. Retrieved August 20, 2016. 
  50. ^ "Actor with Erie ties to appear on 'Oprah'". Erie Times-News. November 24, 2007. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  51. ^ Nessif, Bruna; Malkin, Marc (August 4, 2016). "Birth of a Nation Star Nate Parker Welcomes Baby No. 4". E!. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
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  53. ^ Wilkinson, Alissa (August 11, 2016). "A Conversation with Nate Parker about 'The Birth of a Nation'". Christianity Today. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  54. ^ "Hidden Ancestry Revealed! ft. Nate Parker and Taraji Henson #KnowYourHeritage". The Africa Channel. January 31, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2016. 
  55. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Nate Parker - Awards". IMDb. Retrieved August 16, 2016. 

External links[edit]