The American Film Institute has canceled a previously planned screening for writer-director Nate Parker’s upcoming Nat Turner slave epic Birth of a Nation as controversy involving a nearly two-decade-old rape case continues to swirl around Parker and the film’s co-writer.
The cancellation of the screening for the much-hyped film — which premiered at Sundance in January and quickly became a favorite among critics for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards — comes amid roiling controversy involving a rape charge brought against Parker and Birth co-writer Jean Celestin 17 years ago, for which Parker was ultimately acquitted in 2001. Celestin was reportedly found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in prison, but appealed the case, which was later dropped when the victim chose not to testify again.
AFI dean Jan Schuette sent out a note late Tuesday informing students that the event had been postponed until later in the year.
“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” he wrote, according to Deadline. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.”
The institute had originally planned to show the film and host a moderated Q&A featuring Parker.
Variety reported earlier this month that Birth distributor Fox Searchlight — which paid a Sundance record $17.5 million to acquire the film earlier this year — may alter its promotional campaign in the wake of the scandal, including limiting Parker’s press exposure ahead of the film’s release.
The outlet also reported on Wednesday that Parker would not take part in a press conference at the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, though a spokesperson for the festival said it “rarely” held such press events for films not making their world debut.
Birth of a Nation is due out in theaters October 7.