By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nate Parker, director and star of the new slavery drama "The Birth of a Nation," said he would not apologize over a 17-year-old rape accusation that has hijacked attention from a film once tipped as an Oscar front-runner.

Parker, 36, noted to Anderson Cooper in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday on CBS News' "60 Minutes," that he was acquitted of rape in a 2001 trial, and he asked people to look beyond the incident and focus on his movie.

The rape accusation and revelation in August that Parker's accuser committed suicide in 2012, have dominated conversation around the film before its U.S. release on Oct. 7.

The film tells the story of preacher Nat Turner, played by Parker, who in 1831 led a slave rebellion in Virginia. It includes a rape scene in which Turner's wife is the victim.

Sharon Loeffler, the sister of Parker's accuser, wrote in an opinion piece in Hollywood trade paper Variety on Thursday that she could "only imagine the pain (her sister) would be experiencing now to see Nate Parker promoting his new movie."

Cooper asked Parker if he felt he had anything to apologize for.

According to advance excerpts made available on Thursday, Parker replied, "I was falsely accused. ... I went to court. ... I was vindicated. I feel terrible that this woman isn't here .... Her family had to deal with that, but as I sit here, an apology is – no."

"I think that Nat Turner, as a hero, what he did in history, is bigger than me. I think it's bigger than all of us," Parker told Cooper, saying he hoped people would go see the film.

The movie wowed audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January, sparking 2017 Oscar buzz, and it got a standing ovation in early September at the Toronto International Film Festival where Turner and the cast sought to deflect attention from the rape case.

The issue has thwarted efforts to promote the film, which movie studio Fox Searchlight in January bought for a Sundance record of $17.5 million.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Richard Chang)