The 43-year-old actress writes that she didn’t know of the 1999 rape allegations against Parker and his then college roommate and “Birth of a Nation” collaborator Jean McGianni Celestin when she signed on to the film two years ago, but has found herself in “a state of stomach-churning confusion” since learning of them last month.
Parker and Celestin were accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old classmate at Penn State after a night of drinking. Parker was later acquitted of charges based on the fact that he and the victim had previously had consensual sex, while Celestin was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison. The verdict was overturned on appeal, though, when his original counsel was deemed ineffective. The case was dropped after the victim decided she didn’t want to testify again, and prosecutors felt they didn’t have enough evidence without her testimony to retry the case.
“I cannot take these allegations lightly,” Union wrote. “On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said ‘no,’ silence certainly does not equal ‘yes.’ Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ is problematic at least, criminal at worst. That’s why education on this issue is so vital.”
She goes on to write that even after reading 700 pages of trial transcript, she may think she knows what happened between Parker, Celestin and their 18-year-old classmate, but she doesn’t actually know ― and neither does anyone who wasn’t in the room with the three of them that night 17 years ago.
And regardless of whatever people think of Parker, Union is choosing to focus on the good she believes the film can do. She went on to explain that she took the role in “Birth of a Nation” because she related to the experience and wanted to give a voice to nameless character, who remains silent throughout the film.
“I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence. To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful,” she wrote. “But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary.”
To read Gabrielle Union’s entire op-ed, head over to the Los Angeles Times.