Barbershop: Discussing Controversies Around Nathan Parker And Ryan Lochte Host Farai Chideya speaks with The Atlantic writer Gillian White, Washington Post reporter Alyssa Rosenburg and Farajii Mohammad about the Nate Parker sexual assault case.

Barbershop: Discussing Controversies Around Nathan Parker And Ryan Lochte

Barbershop: Discussing Controversies Around Nathan Parker And Ryan Lochte

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Host Farai Chideya speaks with The Atlantic writer Gillian White, Washington Post reporter Alyssa Rosenburg and Farajii Mohammad about the Nate Parker sexual assault case, and the strange saga of Ryan Lochte in Rio de Janeiro.


It's time now for a trip to the Barbershop where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and on our minds. Joining us in the seats for a shape-up this week, we've got Gillian White, senior associate editor for The Atlantic Hi, Gillian.

GILLIAN WHITE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: Also Alyssa Rosenberg, opinion writer with The Washington Post.

ALYSSA ROSENBERG: So nice to be here.

CHIDEYA: And a Barbershop regular, Farajii Muhammad. He's a youth organizer in Baltimore and hosts the radio show "Listen Up! Baltimore: Our Mutual Hometown." Hey, Farajii.

FARAJII MUHAMMAD: Hey, Farai. Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So we've got plenty to talk about this week, especially as the Olympics in Rio wrap up this weekend. And we're going to get to that in a few minutes. But first, let's start with a more serious topic that has been in the news all week and that is Nate Parker. The filmmaker behind the upcoming film "Birth Of A Nation" has had a 17-year-old rape case re-emerge from his past when he was a student at Penn State.

Before we get started, we should say Parker was acquitted of the charge, though, his roommate at the time who was also charged was found guilty. And we've talked about his film "Birth Of A Nation" on the program before. It is a highly acclaimed movie directed, produced and featuring Parker himself. It's about the Nat Turner slave rebellion in the 1800s. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim and was picked up by Fox Searchlight for a record price for a sale at that key festival. So given all the buzz around "Birth Of A Nation" and now this reveal about Parker's past, are any of you conflicted over whether or not you should even watch the movie? Gillian?

WHITE: Yeah. I mean, I think I'm definitely conflicted. I think everyone that I talk to feels a little bit conflicted, and I think the question that comes up when I chat with folks is that on the one hand, as you mentioned, this is a huge movie. It's a huge movie for people who feel like portions of black history - most of black history - has been buried that's uncomfortable to talk about, and then that the person to bring this up is a young black man who wrote, produced and stars in it - that's huge, right?

But on the other hand, these allegations come up and new findings came out about what happened to the young woman who accused them of rape that were really troubling. And I think that that brings up the question of should you ignore potential moral conflicts about how you feel about the character of the person in order to go enjoy what you think is important art?

CHIDEYA: Alyssa?

ROSENBERG: It's interesting thinking about this. I'm a critic, so I don't really factor in my personal feelings when I'm deciding whether or not to go see a movie. It's one of the most buzzed about movies of the year. I'll see it because it's part of my job. For me, there are a couple of things that make this different from some of the other cases we've seen in Hollywood that involve high-profile men, important projects and allegations of sexual assault.

The first is that the case went to trial. This is not a situation like the allegations against Woody Allen. You know, he was never charged. He never went on trial. That has remained sort of an open wound. It's not a case like Roman Polanski, where he fled rather than see a trial through to its conclusion and serve any sentence that might have been imposed on him. Parker was tried and acquitted, so we are working with a legal standard here.

But I think that this movie because there was going to be a huge publicity campaign around it and it had achieved this sort of moral status separate from its art, it makes it more complicated to posit Parker as someone who is equipped, qualified, has the moral standing to lead that conversation. And I think this gets down to a really important issue that undergirds all of these discussions - what does meaningful redemption look like? Right? If we care about restorative justice, what do we want someone to do to, you know, return to society after they're released from prison? What do we want them to do to restore their moral standing if they've done something terrible 17 years ago? We don't have good, collective answers to those questions, and it makes the situation like this much more complicated.

CHIDEYA: OK. Farajii, two things - one is do you have any conflict about seeing the movie and also how do you deal with the idea that this was 17 years ago? I mean, do you think that this should have been discussed a long time ago? Why is it emerging now?

MUHAMMAD: Well, a couple of things. One is that, no, I don't have any conflict. I think that the movie should still be seen because in a time where you have another generation that don't know about powerful, historical figures like Nat Turner that they have to have some sort of reference point, and I believe that what this movie will do is give folks some foundation to work from. So, no, I don't have a problem seeing it, and I can kind of separate, you know, the art from the artist in some respect, to some degree, not all the time.

But in terms of what happened 17 years ago - I mean, I think that's the big question is like why is this still - why is this just coming up? I mean, unfortunately, the victim committed suicide in 2012. I mean, Nate Parker - he is not a newbie in Hollywood. It could have came out four years ago, but somebody decided to kind of really rehash this, and we really can't say, well, it's not the fact that, you know, it's been rehashed. It's the fact that it happened. No - everything comes and happens based upon a context.

But at the end of the day, what I do believe is that he should fight like hell to make sure that his name is not synonymous with rape, and I don't want to see him getting raked over the coals because, you know - just because of who he is. But at the end of the day, he has to take some level of responsibility, and that's what I'm not quite seeing.

ROSENBERG: I would love to hear someone ask him how having this experience shaped his storytelling in one of the key elements of this story which is the rape of Nat Turner's wife, right? This is a major turning point in that character's development.


ROSENBERG: So how does having this experience as a college student affect the storytelling? And that might be the place where we can see a bridge between the person and the story.

MUHAMMAD: You know, you're cracking open a whole new Pandora's box at this point.



CHIDEYA: Yeah. Well, we have another Pandora's box to crack open and we can probably only get it half way because we've got to, you know - got to end somewhere. But let's end with the story of Ryan Lochte, the ballad of Ryan Lochte...

MUHAMMAD: (Laughter).

CHIDEYA: ...Olympic swimmer.

MUHAMMAD: Please excuse the laughter.

CHIDEYA: Exactly.


CHIDEYA: You know, he, of course, told about being mugged at gunpoint in Rio, and the story crumbled pretty quickly once reporters started digging. And it turns out that a inebriated Lochte was forced by an armed security guard to hand over cash for damages done at a gas station. He apologized on Instagram, writing (reading) it's traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country with a language barrier and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave. I should have been much more responsible. I'm sorry.

And, you know, he posted this on Instagram, and there were a lot of words like mentira and other versions of words about lying in Portuguese. And this comment in English (reading) thanks for further perpetuating the I-hate-Americans frame of mind to other countries. You're one of many other reasons why other countries hate us. Again, nice job.

So if you go to that Instagram post it's...


CHIDEYA: Yeah, there's a lot of chatter about this, and we can't even do all of it justice. But I'm just going to run the gamut with you guys. You know, where should we leave this with Ryan Lochte, who some people are bemoaning the fact he could lose millions in endorsement contracts, other people are celebrating the fact that he could lose millions in endorsement contracts...

MUHAMMAD: I'm going to start it right here.



MUHAMMAD: Why didn't he just tell the truth?


MUHAMMAD: Like OK, you busted up a bathroom, you tore it all apart, you're Ryan Lochte. You just so happen to have like $10,000 on your hand - on hand to just - hey, hey - you know, sorry about what I just did to your bathroom, buddy. You bought the bathroom - you bought the gas station at that point. But why not just tell the truth? And that's the problem. Like you - OK, because you lied about something that's seemingly so simple that you had a drunken night with your friends in a foreign country, you leave open the door of all of these other assumptions as to what really happened that night. And that's the problem, and it certainly is highly white male privilege at its best.

WHITE: I think it's also that he lied, he lied poorly...

MUHAMMAD: Terrible.

WHITE: And in the course of that lie, offended a country that, you know, is full of a lot of brown people. And here you are a young, white man who came from America, did something wrong clearly and then the lie that you're going to go with is that you were attacked by a group of people in a foreign country and it was so traumatic for you.

MUHAMMAD: Traumatic.

WHITE: And then you issue an apology that is not an apology. You also apologized to a bunch of people who are your sponsors and who you are financially obligated to before you apologized to the actual country and people that you offended. So that wasn't an apology. We are not done with it, and I do not feel bad if people kind of look at him sideways now.

CHIDEYA: Alyssa, you get the last word.

ROSENBERG: Ryan Lochte is as he has ever been - so cute, so dumb, so dumb.


ROSENBERG: I mean, this is, as I understand it, this all started because he lied to his mom. He's a 32-year-old man. He's - if you have the age of everyone involved in the situation, their behavior begins to make sense. And...

MUHAMMAD: But you can't lie in the apology.

ROSENBERG: Of course.


ROSENBERG: Of course. I'm saying the man is dumb...


ROSENBERG: ...And has followed his dumbness into an international incident abated and abetted by the conventions of idiotic celebrity PR speak.

CHIDEYA: All right. I feel a letter from Ryan Lochte's mom coming, but I will let you have that last word.


CHIDEYA: Alyssa Rosenberg, Gillian White, Farajii Muhammad, that's all the time we've got for today. Thanks so much.

MUHAMMAD: Thank you.


WHITE: Thank you.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.