Three years ago, film-maker Nate Parker came under scrutiny for a rape allegation from his college days that essentially derailed the release of his Nat Turner film The Birth of a Nation.

Now, with a film about police brutality debuting at the Venice Film International Film Festival, he is apologising for his response then.

"Standing here today at 39, the reality is I was quite tone-deaf ... to a lot of the things that happened in the climate," Parker said in Venice.

"My response obviously hurt a lot of people, frustrated and angered a lot of people and I apologise."

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The film's inclusion in this year's festival, which also saw the premiere of a new Roman Polanski film, was criticised by some who saw it as incongruous with the progress that has been made in the culture in the #MeToo era. The #MeToo movement, which references a Twitter hashtag used by victims to acknowledge experiences of sexual assault and harassment, gained momentum in 2017 after dozens of women accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Parker was accused of sexual assault when he was a sophomore at Penn State University. Although he was acquitted, the incident emerged in the press around the release of The Birth of a Nation, a film which many expected to win awards. Parker responded then by saying he was "falsely accused" and had been "vindicated" by the court.

"I'm still learning and growing and still feeling the need to make films that speak to things that need to change in our country and the world," Parker said in Venice. "And this topic was very dear to me."

The new film, American Skin, stars Parker as an ex-Marine who sees his unarmed 14-year-old son murdered by a police officer during a traffic stop. When the courts fail to hold the officer responsible, Parker's character Lincoln Jefferson decides to seek justice in his own way. Parker was inspired to write the film after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri.

"I haven't had a film that's affected me this deeply in a while," said acclaimed director Spike Lee, who offered to help Parker in any way he could. "This is a very important film and I wanted to be part of it ... Art can affect people's behaviour good or bad. And it is my hope that this film deals with the very serious problem with police and brown and black people in the United States of America."

Lee said he had no reservations putting his name behind Parker's.

"It's a move forward. Nate is in here. He's not hiding. He's answering all questions," Lee said. "This is only Nate's second feature film, there's a lot more in him."

In American Skin, Parker brings together all sides to have a "real conversation" between those supporting the police and those feeling persecuted by law enforcement.

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"What I wanted to do was really force the conversation," he said. "This film isn't about those two sides. It's about being the bridge between those two sides ... and being able to talk on the level about what they see and what they feel every day."

He also hopes that audiences don't misinterpret American Skin as being pessimistic.

"It's my reality. When Spike and I go home and we get off the plane and get in the car, guess what? We're not going to be safe."

Parker held back tears when a reporter asked about the legacy he wanted to leave.

"I do have a lot of stories I want to tell because I feel like the world is broken," Parker said, mentioning gun violence, indigenous people, and the plight of women globally. "It is my prayer that I'll be able to tell more stories."

- AP