Looking to make a comeback, director Nate Parker was in contrition mode Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, admitting that he had been “tone deaf” in his past remarks regarding the rape charge he faced as a college student.
“The last three years have been such a learning experience for me,” he said at a press conference on the Lido for his new film, the police-brutality drama “American Skin.” “I feel like I have gained so much wisdom from people in my circle,” he added.
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“Three years ago I was pretty tone deaf to the realities of certain situations that were happening in the climate. And I’ve had a lot of time to think about that, and I’ve learned a lot from it,” he said. “And being tone deaf, there were a lot of people that were hurt in my response, in the way I approached things. I apologize to those people.”
Parker made a splash in 2016 with his debut film, “The Birth of a Nation,” which was snapped up by Fox Searchlight in a record $17.5 million deal at Sundance but tanked at the box office. Its prospects were negatively affected when news resurfaced that Parker had been charged with rape as a college student. Although he was acquitted in that case, in 2001, his response to the situation was judged callous, especially when it emerged that his accuser later committed suicide.
“I’ve learned, I’m continuing to learn,” he said Sunday. “I’m 39 years old now. Hopefully I have a long way to go. The hope is that I can continue taking the wisdom from people who care enough…and help me to be introspective about where I am and what I’ve been through.”
Spike Lee, who is in Venice to support Parker and the film, said that he and Parker talked about what had happened in the past. “He explained to me the growth he had gone through, and also the pain, and when he said that, I said, ‘Come on, brother. I’m with you. That’s why I’m here.”
Lee cast Parker in a small role in his 2012 film “Red Hook Summer.” Lee called Parker’s new movie a “brave tour de force.”
Tarak Ben Ammar, who financed “American Skin” along with Mark Burg, told Variety on Sunday that he approached Parker after watching “The Birth of a Nation” three years ago.
“I called his agent right away to meet him. I told him that I’ve worked with Roman Polanski, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Jacques Annaud and that he was an auteur like them,” Ben Ammar said. “At the time no one was calling him because of the controversy” over his remarks about the rape case.
“When he talked to me about this project, he said it’s a very small story with unknown actors, but when I read what he sent me, I said ‘Let’s do it. I’m in if you can make film at the same level as what you wrote,’” Ben Ammar said, adding: “Getting Spike Lee on board really put the film on the map. He’s such a great ambassador for the film, and it’s so rare for a filmmaker to take another young director under his wing.”
After Venice, “American Skin” will play at the Deauville and El Gouna festivals. A buyers’ screening will be hosted on Sept. 6 in Toronto. Ben Ammar’s production-distribution company Eagle Pictures will release the movie in Italy.