Gabrielle Union wrote a stirring essay for The Los Angeles Times in the wake of renewed scrutiny of director Nate Parker’s rape allegations. The actress — who is a sexual assault survivor herself — has a powerful, nonspeaking role as a slave who is raped in Parker’s upcoming Birth of a Nation.
Union’s decision not to have any dialogue in the film was a pointed one. “I took this role because I related to the experience,” she wrote. “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.”
That scene, however, is now marred by the fact that the film’s writer, director, and star was accused of sexual assault when he was in college, along with his roommate and friend Jean Celestin, who cowrote Birth of a Nation with Parker. Parker was acquitted when the case went to trial, but the recently resurfaced allegations have derailed the rollout of the film, which at one point was even declared an early Oscar contender.
Despite how much Union believes in the importance of the film Parker made, she goes on to write that she “cannot take these allegations lightly.” She also stated that she’s since read all 700 pages of the trial transcript herself, and that it’s nearly impossible for her or “anyone who was not in that room” to know what happened that night — but she is sure of one thing: Parker did not have his victim’s consent.
“On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did,” she wrote. “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.”
Still, Union makes the case that the thought-provoking film is still worth seeing, even in light of the controversy. In fact, she hopes that the film, and her performance in particular, will “inform and educate” young people about sexual assault and consent.
“I took this part in this film to talk about sexual violence,” Union wrote. “To talk about this stain that lives on in our psyches. I know these conversations are uncomfortable and difficult and painful. But they are necessary. Addressing misogyny, toxic masculinity, and rape culture is necessary. Addressing what should and should not be deemed consent is necessary.”
Read the full essay here.