Gabrielle Union feels the conversation that "Birth of a Nation" can create about race and sexual violence will have more impact than the controversy surrounding filmmaker Nate Parker.
A 17-year-old rape allegation against Parker and his co-writer Jean Celestin while they were students at Penn State University has loomed in the headlines and threatened to overshadow the film. Parker also directed, and stars in the true account of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner.
"This movie is so much bigger than me, than Nate, but it includes all of us in moving this conversation forward," Union told the Associated Press on Saturday at a junket for the film at the Toronto International film Festival.
Parker was acquitted in the case. Celestin was initially found guilty of sexual assault in the same case, but the conviction was later overturned when the accuser declined to testify for a retrial. The accuser killed herself in 2012.
Union, a rape survivor, was aware of the allegation, but wanted to do the film to have a platform for dialogue.
"I was actually encouraged to shirk my responsibilities, duck it, cut ties. ... My whole point in taking this film was to talk about sexual violence, and it seems asinine to shirk that responsibility," Union said.
She added: "I have a responsibility as a decent human being to continue the conversation surrounding sexual assault, rape culture, and toxic masculinity and misogyny and that our movement at 'Birth of a Nation' is not narrowly focused."
At the junket, Parker wanted to focus more on the film.
"I have spoken about it a couple of times, and I'm sure I will speak in future forums, but the reality is that this forum is for film, and there are 400 people that put their blood, sweat and tears into this, and a lot of them are having their ... first film festival."