Nate Parker (born November 18, 1979) is an American actor and musical performer who has appeared in Beyond the Lights, Red Tails, The Secret Life of Bees, The Great Debaters, and Pride. He was an All-American wrestler in both at Great Bridge High School and at the University of Oklahoma. Parker has been active in charitable work, donating his time both as a volunteer wrestling coach and a political activist.
Parker was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Carolyn, a 17 year-old mother at the time. His mother never married his biological father, but did wed the man who gave Parker his last name. Parker has four younger sisters. According to a DNA analysis, some of his ancestry is from Cameroon. During Parker's time in middle school, his mother fell in love with Walter Whitfield, who was stationed in Bath, Maine, in the United States Air Force. Although his mother married Whitfield and moved to Maine, Parker, despite the physical distance after the move, remained close to his biological father emotionally. His father died when Parker was eleven, however.Parker became involved in classroom fights and home power struggles with his stepfather, Whitfield. Parker moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia to stay with his maternal uncle, Jay Combs, a former wrestler, at age 14. Nate's great-grandmother got sick and his mother moved back to Hampton Roads, Virginia and lived in the Churchland High School zone, where Nate joined her. Sharing a three-bedroom apartment with four uncles, his mom, aunt, and grandmother, Parker said "we didn't have many material things but we loved each other unconditionally."
As a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University in 1999, he and a teammate were accused of having had non-consensual sex with a woman who had passed out, but when she admitted during the trial to having had consensual sex with Parker the day before the alleged rape, Parker was acquitted in 2001. Parker married Erie, Pennsylvania-native Sarah DiSanto, whom he met while they were attending Penn State, in Erie's Frontier Park during the summer of 2007. He is a University of Oklahoma alumnus.
Because Parker looked up to Combs, Combs was able to get Parker started in Wrestling at Princess Anne High School. Parker placed third in the Virginia High School League state wrestling championships as a junior while attending Churchland after reuniting with his mother. Carolyn Whitfield moved to the Great Bridge High School district so Parker could participate in its powerhouse wrestling program. He was a member of the 1997–98 state champion Great Bridge wrestling team and was a state champion 135-pound (61 kg) wrestler who placed third in the High School National Wrestling Championships, while becoming a high school All-American. He earned a full scholarship to wrestle at Penn State University.
At Penn State, Parker was nationally ranked as a freshman. After transferring he continued to be ranked as a redshirt junior 141-pound (64 kg) wrestler. In 2002, he placed fifth at the National Collegiate Athletic Association wrestling championships and became an All-American at Oklahoma. Following his fifth place finish, he was ranked second nationally as a redshirt senior. In 2003, he earned an undergraduate degree in computer programming from Oklahoma. After graduating from Oklahoma, he worked as a computer programmer until he was noticed at a modeling convention in Dallas, Texas, while accompanying a model friend.
Parker's first profession was as a computer programmer, which he described as being "in a cubicle writing code". Then, he attended an event in Dallas with a model he was in a relationship with. Los Angeles talent manager Jon Simmons noticed Parker at the convention and talent search while Parker was waiting for his friend to finish her audition. Simmons felt Parker had "the look" and inquired about whether Parker was an actor or a model. After Parker denied both, he asked Parker to read a monologue from The Fast and The Furious. He then asked Parker to videotape himself doing lines from Antwone Fisher and Parker delivered a video within a week. Simmons told him to move to Los Angeles, California right away. Parker packed his clothes and computer and moved to sleep on another aspiring actor's couch. He quickly landed a part in a television commercial. Bit parts and guest appearances followed. He has been working with acting coach Cary Anderson since arriving in Los Angeles. As of early 2008, Parker continued to live in North Hollywood, California with his wife, mother and three of his sisters in a 650-square-foot (60 m2) one-bedroom apartment.
Parker played the male lead in Rome and Jewel, a hip-hop take on Romeo and Juliet in 2006. He had a smaller role in Pride, about an African American swim team, but one that allowed him to display his athletic physique.
Denzel Washington directed The Great Debaters and selected Parker for the role of Henry Lowe. Parker heard Washington requires biographies of the characters that he directs. He wrote a 100-page biography of the Henry Lowe character. To prepare for his role and write a character biography, he read the works of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. The character was based on the real-life debater, Henry Heights. Parker's character is the love interest of Jurnee Smollett's character and has a bad-boy streak. Parker also performed on the soundtrack. Parker, and co-stars Forest Whitaker, and Denzel Washington were nominated for the 2008 NAACP Image Awards in the best supporting actor category, which Denzel Washington won.
Parker aspires to provide scholarships to youth between the ages of 17 and 25 at Wiley College through the 100 Men of Excellence Initiative. He has been a supporter of Boys & Girls Clubs of America as well as a program called Peace4Kids, which is a program for foster youths and underprivileged youth in South Los Angeles, California where kids are involved in daily activities that stimulate and nurture creativity and intellect. Parker also coaches a wrestling team of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds at Rosemead High School and he assists in coaching wrestling at Rio Hondo College. Parker was an active supporter of and volunteer for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign.