American Skin: Nate Parker’s Follow-Up to Birth of Nation at 2019 venice Film Fest

Nate Parker’s drama American Skin, his first feature after the debacle of The Birth of a Nation, has been added to the 2019 Venice Film Fest.

Parker both directs and stars in the movie, which will have its world premiere on the Lido. He plays Lincoln, a Marine veteran who now works as a school janitor and is trying to mend his relationship with his son after his divorce.

During a routine police check, the boy is killed, but the officer guilty of shooting him is declared innocent without having to face trial. Lincoln then takes matters into his own hands.

After “The Birth of a Nation” made a splash, winning a prize at Sundance in 2016, Parker found himself engulfed in controversy after it emerged that he had once been charged with rape, but was later acquitted.

Spike Lee is expected attend the premiere of “American Skin,” which will screen in the out-of-competition Sconfini section, and participate in a Q&A with the audience after the screening.

“The Birth of a Nation” tanked at the box office three years ago amid renewed scrutiny of a 1999 case in which Parker was charged with rape and ultimately acquitted on a technicality.

His sophomore feature was financed by Mark Burg, best known for the “Saw” franchise, and Tarak Ben Ammar, the controversial Tunisian producer.  In 2004, Ben Ammar distributed Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” in France, defying calls for a boycott over the film’s alleged anti-Semitism. Ben Ammar was also an investor and board member of the Weinstein Co., and was engaged in the tumult that led to the company’s 2018 bankruptcy.

The film was shot in March and April in Los Angeles, with cooperation from the police. Sources close to the project say the film evokes a “12 Angry Men” vibe, and while it is politically charged, it is not “anti-cop.”

The budget of $4.5 million is smaller than that of “Birth,” which cost $8.5 million to produce and which sold to Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking $17.5 million.

“American Skin” was submitted relatively late to the Venice Film Fest and slotted in its Sconfini section, a series of arthouse and genre films that screen out of competition.

The festival is already under fire for welcoming Polanski’s latest film, “An Officer and a Spy,” which dramatizes the Dreyfus affair, a notorious case of anti-Semitism in France. The coincidence of inviting two directors who both faced rape allegations and who have made films about societal prejudice and injustice is striking. Polanski pleaded guilty to statutory rape in 1978, but fled the country before sentencing. Parker was acquitted in 2001 of raping a fellow Penn State student. The student alleged in a lawsuit that he and his co-defendant had harassed and intimidated her after she reported the incident. She later died by suicide.

In the U.S., both directors have faced severe professional consequences. Parker’s mute defensive response to the past allegations killed the film’s box office and awards chances. Polanski, who has long lived in exile in France, was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the wake of the #MeToo controversy.