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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

After Roman Polanski, Venice Film Festival faces another controversy with Nate Parker’s American Skin

Venice Film Festival was drawn into a fresh controversy after the inclusion of American Skin, starring Nate Parker.

world-cinema Updated: Aug 09, 2019 17:16 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
Nate Parker, who stars in American Skin, was accused of raping a woman student during his college days.
Nate Parker, who stars in American Skin, was accused of raping a woman student during his college days.

Once Cannes was controversial with a capital C. But, of late, the Venice Film Festival, the oldest in the world having begun its run in 1932 (with Cannes following in 1946 after World War II ended), seems to have stolen this ‘honour’ from its French counterpart.

Days after Venice announced its official list of films, the festival included Nate Parker’s American Skin – the first work after his debut 2016 The Birth of a Nation. This film crashed at the box office after Parker’s earlier rape charge resurfaced. He was charged with the crime during his college days, but was eventually acquitted. But the controversy reared its ugly head again -- when The Birth of the Nation opened – and derailed his promising first feature.

Parker was accused of raping a woman student, but despite her lawsuit, he was set free. She also alleged that Parker threatened her after she had filed a complaint.

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American Skin tackles explosive subjects like race relations in America and police brutality. Parker himself plays Lincoln Jefferson, a veteran Marine, who after his divorce is trying to bridge the gulf with his son. When the boy is killed by cops, the officer guilty of this crime escapes trial and is declared innocent. An enraged Lincoln takes over the police station concerned and stages a trial in which the members of the jury are inmates. Ultimately, the Government relents, and punishes the officer.

Director-Actor Spike Lee will attend the premiere of American Skin along with Parker, and a discussion would follow the screening. On Wednesday, Lee praised Parker, saying he “has concocted a brave tour de force. I haven’t been affected by a movie like this on so many levels in a long, long time. It is my hope and prayer that the audience will understand this battle between love and hate, which has divided our world. Bravo Nate, bravo”.

Roman Polanski’s An Officer and A Spy will be shown at Venice.
Roman Polanski’s An Officer and A Spy will be shown at Venice.

But, Parker’s work could well add to the list of controversies facing Venice 2019. The festival is already being questioned for having included Roman Polanski’s latest outing, An Officer and A Spy, which explores the Dreyfus affair, a burning case of anti-Semitism in France. There has been much talk about selecting the films of two directors, both facing serious charges, but who have made films about societal prejudice and injustice. Some call this sheer hypocrisy.

Polanski pleaded guilty to rape in 1978, but ran away from the US before he could be sentenced. He has never gone back to the country, fearing arrest. Many years later, he was briefly incarcerated in Switzerland, but was not deported to the US.

However, the festival director Alberto Barbera, has stood firmly behind Polanski and defended him: “His movies deserve to be seen at Venice. He’s paid for what he did,” he told Variety. “But [for me] as a festival director, what counts is that he made a great film.”

Likewise, those who support American Skin and Parker are hoping that the work will receive a great response from audiences on the Lido, the island off Venice where the 11-day event takes place. The festival runs from August 28 to September 7.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Venice Film Festival for over 18 years.)

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