“The Birth of a Nation” actress Gabrielle Union coined an op-ed for the LA Times today in which she reflected on her experience as a sexual assault survivor. Her op-ed comes at a time when she recently learned of “Birth of a Nation” writer and director Nate Parker’s 1999 rape allegations and later acquittal of sexual assault.
In August, Parker spoke out about the allegations in a detailed Facebook post, stating, “Over the last several days, a part of my past – my arrest, trial and acquittal on charges of sexual assault – has become a focal point for media coverage, social media speculation and industry conversation. I understand why so many are concerned and rightfully have questions. These issues of a women’s right to be safe and of men and women engaging in healthy relationships are extremely important to talk about, however difficult. And more personally, as a father, a husband, a brother and man of deep faith, I understand how much confusion and pain this incident has had on so many, most importantly the young woman who was involved. I myself just learned that the young woman ended her own life several years ago and I am filled with profound sorrow…I can’t tell you how hard it is to hear this news. I can’t help but think of all the implications this has for her family.”
Union, 43, who plays the role of a victim of sexual assault and rape in the film, opened up to the View about her sexual assault when she was held at gunpoint and raped at a shoe store at the age of 19.
Though the news of Parker’s allegations came as a shock to Union, she feels she cannot back down from the role which she believes is an opportunity to educate others about consent and sexual violence.
“But I believe that the film is an opportunity to inform and educate so that these situations cease to occur on college campuses, in dorm rooms, in fraternities, in apartments or anywhere else young people get together to socialize.”
Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion. I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. I knew I could walk out of our movie and speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.
My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control. It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform. When I am scared. Confused. Ashamed. I remember this part of myself and must reach out to anyone who will listen — other survivors, or even potential perpetrators.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the U.S. have experienced rape in their lifetime. RAINN reports that younger people are at the highest risk of sexual violence, adding that every two minutes a person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
Laverne Cox lauded Union’s powerful essay which opened up the dialogue about consent and sexual violence and ending rape culture:
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