As details of Nate Parker’s rape trial seemingly came out of nowhere, so did the many people who chose to support him despite the gruesome details of his rape case. With Parker’s upcoming film, The Birth of A Nation, set up for an October release, whether or not to support it has become a deeply personal question many people had to ask themselves. The latest to join the conversation is Harry Belafonte, a man who’s been credited with supporting the Civil Rights Movement and equality for decades and even made the cover of Ebony Magazine last year for it.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Belafonte went on to question not only the resurfacing of Parker’s rape accusations, but also the doubts being raised by the public.
“It’s interesting because it’s coming out the same time the film’s coming out,” he said. Of all the stories you can tell, why are you telling this story? And if he was somebody who had committed a crime and got away with it, but he faced the justice system.”
“The fact that [the system] may have screwed up, the fact that it didn’t really take care of justice, the fact that he should have been punished or whatever is history,” he continued. “The fact is that he was confronted and then he did go through the process. Why are you bringing this up now? What has he done that requires this kind of animus?”
Harry Belafonte was one of the many people that felt the system failed Trayvon Martin and others like him. So it’s interesting – if not completely hypocritical – that when the victim is a woman who was raped and harassed by her attackers, which were two black men, the system must’ve gotten it right for once. Not likely.
Belafonte, Charlamagne tha God and Rev. Al Sharpton have all come out to support Parker against what they feel is a smear campaign to “keep the black man down.” Many more have come to the same defense, especially other black men, but those three are the most prominent. Whether they know this or not, their attempts to do as much as they can to support the black man is even more damaging to many victims of rape and sexual assault.
Their defense strongly suggests that they’re willing to look the other way after an assault just because an abuser happens to be a black man who made a movie worth watching. It shouldn’t be nearly that easy to compromise the safety of sexual assault victims just to spend a few dollars at a movie theater. Because that’s exactly what happens when you decide to ignore statistics, facts and history in favor of a steadfast loyalty to the black man, no matter what.
Parker isn’t the victim here.
The reaction to Nate Parker’s past becoming public knowledge is nothing more than a symptom of rape culture and toxic masculinity revealing itself again, as it often does. There’s a large portion of the population that inherently feels that a victim has to prove that they were raped, instead of rapists proving that they didn’t harm someone in the first place.
The percentage of rape victims who actually get justice for their abuse is staggeringly low, which is why the best approach is to always – I repeat, always – take rape accusations seriously. Not doing so is exactly why we’re currently in a system where an 18-year-old woman can be raped, be brave enough to publicly call out her abuser(s), and have to live with the trauma of the entire experience for years after they’re acquitted on the paper-thin arguments. Unfortunately for Parker’s victim, that path resulted in Parker’s victim dying by suicide in 2012.
A likely reason why so many people are hesitant to believe rape victims is because of what it requires. Condemning Nate Parker and many who have committed similar acts of harm against others forces us to take a hard look at our peers and in the mirror. Some won’t like what they see as they have flashbacks to moments of their past that may have played out in similar fashion.
Some have chosen to not support the film because they feel that it would, by extension, help promote a possible rapist and propel his career even further than it’s already gone. Some have chosen to see it because the story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion is worth telling. And then there’s a third group: conspiracy theorists that feel the timing of the entire situation is a clear attempt by the man to keep a Black man to succeed while making a film of substance. Belafonte falls squarely into the final group.
Based on an interview given by Eartha Kitt in the 1960s, even Belafonte has reason to be ashamed when looking back at his own treatment of black women. So, his blind defense of Parker may be coming from that same fear of self that many others feel.
M: Do you think you faced a lot of resentment just because you were married to a white man.
E: Oh yes, that caused the resentment. I was married to Bill McDonald in 1960. People would say ‘Why didn’t you marry a Black man?’ I would reply “because the white girls had them!” The men I wanted to be with, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, dated predominantly white women. I’m talking about the 50s. When Harry Belafonte picks me out of his bed in Philadelphia and said: ‘I don’t want you to take me seriously because no Black woman can do anything for me’. I could not help him to progress into where he was going to go. “A black woman would hold a black man back’, that’s what he told me. If I wanted to marry a black man there wasn’t one because the white girls had them.
Choosing whether or not to see Parker’s film, is a personal choice that shouldn’t be condemned by either side. There are enough valid reasons to do either. But acting as if the justice system didn’t completely fail a young woman on a flimsy defense and thinking that the media is just picking on Parker is delusional and a symptom of the same masculinity that makes rape culture so prominent.
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