Nate Parker

Nate Parker

Nate Parker was born in Norfolk, VA. His parents never married, although his mother later wed a U.S. Air Force officer. The future star's biological father died when he was 11. Parker moved around often as a young man, eventually settling down in Hampton Roads, VA, where he shared a three-bedroom apartment with seven family members. He attended Pennsylvania State University, where he was a nationally ranked wrestler; it was also where where he met his future wife, Sarah DiSanto. Parker eventually transferred schools and graduated with honors from the University of Oklahoma, earning a degree in management science and information systems. Shortly after graduation, Parker accompanied a female friend to a modeling convention in Texas. Even though he had no interest in pursuing modeling himself, Parker was approached by talent manager Jon Simmons and encouraged to move to Los Angeles.Upon arriving in L.A., Parker slept on Simmons' couch and used his considerable computer programming skills to earn some money while going on auditions. He landed his first acting job within months, appearing in a Tide commercial and made his TV acting debut in 2004 in an episode of the crime drama "Cold Case" (CBS, 2003-2010). His career ticking upward, he made his feature film debut the following year opposite Edward Furlong and Jaime Pressly in the thriller "Cruel World." However, it was a plum role in the historical drama "The Great Debaters" that not only catapulted Parker's acting career, but also provided him the opportunity to work with his idol Denzel Washington. As the film's star and director, Washington reportedly selected Parker to play a character based on real-life debater Henry Heights. To prepare for his breakout role, Parker studied the works of James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Langston Hughes, as well as wrote a 100-page biography on his character Henry to further impress his Oscar-winning director and co-star. For his hard-earned performance, Parker was nominated in the supporting actor category alongside Washington and Forest Whitaker at the 2008 NAACP Image Awards.Living out many of his dreams, Parker joined an A-list cast that included Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys for the feature adaptation of "The Secret Life of Bees." Based on the heartwarming novel by Sue Monk Kidd, the film followed a young girl (Dakota Fanning) haunted by her mother's death and her relationship with her black caretaker (Hudson) on the run from the law. Parker played a supporting role in the film as the love interest for Keys' tough-shelled character June Boatwright. At ease with taking on historical characters throughout his career, Parker landed a starring role in "Red Tails" an epic drama about the Tuskegee Airmen, executive produced by none other than George Lucas. The 2012 film followed the group of African-American pilots who fought in World War II yet faced segregation out of the battle zone. Despite an impressive cast that included acclaimed actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Bryan Cranston and Terrence Howard, the film was not a hit at the box office. That same year, Parker appeared in two other films, including the Spike Lee-directed drama "Red Hook Summer," where he played a former church boy-turned-gang member. Critics also raved about Parker's role opposite industry heavyweight Richard Gere in the Wall Street thriller "Arbitrage." After roles in the crime drama "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" (2013), indie drama "About Alex" (2014), Gina Prince-Bythewood's romantic drama "Beyond the Lights" (2014) and the Liam Neeson thriller "Non-Stop" (2014), Parker made his debut as a writer, producer and director with "The Birth of a Nation" (2016). Pointedly titled the same as D.W. Griffith's epic about the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the film told a very different Civil War story about Nat Turner's slave rebellion. The film debuted to strong critical acclaim at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and subsequently sold for $17.5 million, reportedly the biggest deal ever made at Sundance. However, in August 2016, Parker's trial and acquittal for the 1999 rape of a fellow student at Pennsylvania State University became a subject of fierce debate that threatened to overshadow the film, which itself featured a rape scene. ("Birth of a Nation" co-screenwriter Jean McGianni Celestin was convicted of sexual assault for the same incident, with his conviction overturned in 2005; the accuser, who also claimed that Parker and Celestin hired a private investigator to harass her after she filed charges, had committed suicide in 2012.) After Parker's initial attempt at a public statement via social media was widely condemned and mocked, the studio pulled him away from the usual media circuit as the 2016 awards season got underway. By Candy Cuenco