After rape survivor pleaded with Penn State to revoke Jean Celestin’s graduation, the school allowed him to walk.
Birth of A Nation director, screenwriter and lead actor Nate Parker and his writing partner, Jean Celestin, are under intense scrutiny after recent information concerning a 2001 rape case involving the two men resurfaced amid the Oscar buzz orbiting their movie.
The film, a biopic depicting the life and famous rebellion of enslaved, black revolutionary Nat Turner, turned heads and garnered critical praise at Sundance and was purchased by Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17 million.
Parker and Celestin were charged with raping a female student at Penn State in August 1999. Parker was acquitted on a shitty technicality: he’d had a prior sexual relationship with the woman. Celestin was convicted but after serving six months in jail, he appealed. In 2001, the court overturned the guilty verdict and Celestin was released after the victim refused to re-testify in court. She was suffering from PTSD and suicidal, twice attempting to take her life after the first court trial. She finally did in 2012, and her family strongly suspects that her death was due to the lack of justice delivered in her case.
As media publications seek to share more details and facts about what happened in this rape case, Wear Your Voice has uncovered an article published by Marc Schogol in Philadelphia Inquirer in 2001.
Schogol weighs in on the tragic situation one month after court rendered its guilty verdict on Celestin, documenting the accuser’s frustration and pain concerning the court’s decision to adjust Celestin’s sentence so that he could participate in the school’s graduation ceremonies. Parker had, by that point, dropped out of Penn.
According to Schogol, Parker’s accuser, who was allegedly harassed by Parker and Celestin at the Penn campus after filing her report and before she eventually dropped out of school, said in a phone interview that she was “shocked” and “really fuming” at the court’s decision and that it wasn’t “appropriate or fair” that university officials would allow Celestin to graduate.
“I was going on the assumption that someone convicted of a serious felony would be kicked off campus, no matter what,” she told Scholgol in the phone interview.
Scholgol also touched on a letter the victim wrote to the school’s Office of Judicial Affairs about the circumstances of that evening. “Although the drinking and the amount of alcohol I consumed showed very poor judgment on my part, I did not ‘ask’ to be raped,” Parker’s accuser wrote.
There’s also a brief mention about the concerns of black students at the time, who viewed this as another case of racism. Schogol writes:
Despite her pleas to the university to revoke Celestin’s graduation privileges, school officials opted to let him walk and collect his degree, prompting the founders of Security to Change, an activist group that fights on behalf of student rape survivors on college campuses, to write:
Parker’s initial statement to Deadline about this “dark moment” in his life unsettled fans, many of whom were eager to see and support Birth. He came off as cold, dismissive and unremorseful.
In a follow-up statement posted to his Facebook page, he tried to make it clear that “the encounter was unambiguously consensual.” However, his recollection of events contradicts the official documents of the case, where witnesses testified that the accuser was intoxicated and in no condition to grant consent.