“If a woman says she was raped, I believe her, because for all she has to go through, why would she lie?”
The words I heard my freshman year in college in a discussion group between black and Jewish women greet me as I unlock my bicycle. Riding my bike often helps me clear my head, so in the 3.1 miles and 21 minutes between the gym I just left and my apartment, I should know whether I will go see Nate Parker’s film, Birth of a Nation.
“… for all she has to go through…”
rape kit, if reported and if reported within enough time
what were you wearing?
how often do you drink?
what were you wearing?
did you ever have sex with the accused prior to the night in question?
do you do this often—get drunk and sleep around, I mean.
why should we trust your memory?
don’t you think you’re responsible for your actions after drinking?
you just regret the night and want some cover to make it look like it’s not your fault, don’t you.
then a prosecutor asking the same questions
then a defense attorney
And in her case, why would she lie?
Because white girls who have sex with black men sometimes lie about rape. Not in this case, I’m sure. Because I know the definition of consent and of rape—the absence of consent—and I know you cannot consent if you’re too incapacitated to do so.
Does Nate Parker not actually know the definition of consent? Is that possible? Does he not realize he and his friend Jean Celestin raped that woman when they were in college? What have they said about all the other women that two men ran trains on while she was passed out? What have they said about them?
In other words, is the denial personal or patriarchal?
He does have a lot to lose here by confessing, “I raped her. I was 19 and didn’t know what I was doing was rape. I know that now. I’m sorry, and I’ve changed.” The statute of limitations is over, true, but he has a wife now. Children. Five daughters. They would carry his stigma, too, even if they leave him. We may forever see him as a rapist.
The statute of limitations is over, but the Oscar race is personal. Best Picture doesn’t play well with scandal off the screen—at least, not for us.
You know what’s going to happen after the Oscars if Nate Parker and Birth of a Nation don’t win anything? Black Twitter: #ButWoodyAllen.
And we will be angry that we have been denied again, because we take this communally and personally. That’s why we got gifs of Tyra Banks going off, ‘cause we were rooting for Nate. We were all rooting for him and for Birth.
Because we need to give D.W. Griffith the finger, artistically. Because we need stories and representation, and yes, even recognition by white people and white institutions of our greatness, and by all accounts, Birth of a Nation will be great. And we need more movies like this. “Serious” films. Oscar-worthy dramas. WE.
“White girl crying rape.” There is a history of it.
There is a history of even a white person’s perceived threat of it leading to millstones around necks, bodies emerging upstream, bloated and bruised.
But our history was used for insidious purposes in her case. This ought not be done.
Would I have been with the Black Student Caucus on that campus in 1999? Believing blackness. Not believing a [white] woman? I don’t know.
Carrying my bike up my apartment stairs
I don’t know where I am now. I don’t know Parker’s victim. I don’t know Parker. I don’t know if I would know any of this if our culture weren’t so insistent on knowing what our favorite celebrities were like when they were younger.
But I do know I have some distance from this, some privilege that sexual assault survivors don’t have. I know that their victimization, that moment a man—because it’s usually a man—decided he was entitled to a woman’s—because it’s usually a woman—body just because he was a man, pisses me off.
In the house
But I know I still really want to see this movie on the screen it was intended for, not on my TV or computer or phone or however the bootlegger can get it to me in this digital age.
Hell, I went to see Straight Outta Compton. You couldn’t have kept me away from it—and I didn’t feel bad about that then and don’t now.
The fact is, I can separate most* artists and their art from their humanity and inhumane acts.
The fact is, I need to.
The fact is, yes, Pearl Cleage, it is somewhat unreasonable “for us to break [Miles Davis’s] albums, burn his tapes and scratch up his CDs” and not give Tidal or Apple any more money, either, because Miles Davis hit Cicely Tyson and never apologized for it.
And “for us to break [James Brown’s] albums, burn his tapes and scratch up his CDs.”
Because when being a black woman in America gets to be too hard, I need them to lift me up.
I don’t know that Birth of a Nation will be on that level. But resistance is something we—the collective—will always need documented and demonstrated.
But how much longer will we—black women—have to choose between blackness and womanhood?
*I don’t listen to R. Kelly. He is a pedophile. Additionally, the content of his work plus his relationship with Aaliyah as a music producer (artist) and pedophile make him inseparable from his art.
UPDATE 8/20/2016: Since posting this, I’ve had another thought. We (meaning black people who have been paying attention to this controversy) have been discussing Parker and Birth as if the movie were a one-man show. Truth is, if this movie tanks, everyone who worked on it suffers, including, most ironically, Gabrielle Union, a rape survivor and an actress whose film career needs a strong success. Actors get more roles not just based on performance but also how much money they brought to the box office.
Additionally, all cast and crew have already been paid. That’s the way the industry works. But investors and distributors, who make their money back after distribution and ticket sales, have not. And investors and distributors are the ones who determine if a movie even gets made, and then if it gets made, whether we see it in theaters nationwide, select cities, or on Netflix or Amazon. If they don’t make their money back on Birth, it’s more evidence to support why they can’t put their money behind good black movies and filmmakers, and that puts the future of many black movies in danger.
Parker’s behavior as a 19-year-old was criminal. But 17 years later, his behavior and our willingness to separate the artist from his art (or not) affects far more people than him.