LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nate Parker's historical slavery drama was a surprise inclusion among the Directors Guild of America's nominations on Thursday, after the early awards frontrunner was derailed by a decade-old lawsuit involving a rape charge against the filmmaker.
Parker was one of the five nominated filmmakers in the outstanding directorial achievement for a first-time feature film category, the only major awards recognition "Birth of a Nation" has received so far.
In the main category for outstanding directorial achievement in a feature film, five awards-season frontrunners were nominated. The Directors Guild picks often go on to score Oscar success, such as last year's winner Alejandro Inarritu, who also won the best directing Oscar for "The Revenant."
Damien Chazelle, nominated for romantic musical "La La Land," will contend alongside Barry Jenkins for his intimate drama "Moonlight," Garth Davis for adoption drama "Lion," Kenneth Lonergan for the drama "Manchester by the Sea" and Denis Villeneuve for his poetic alien film "Arrival."
"Birth of a Nation," the Fox Searchlight film about a 19th century slave rebellion, is written, directed, produced and stars Parker, and was seen as a strong Oscar contender for its diverse cast until reports of the 1999 lawsuit, of which Parker was acquitted, surfaced last year.
Parker addressed the case in interviews and on Facebook, saying he was devastated to learn that his female accuser had taken her own life in 2012, but he said he would not apologize over the case, instead asking people to look beyond it and focus on the film.
Despite Fox Searchlight standing behind the film and campaigning for awards, the movie has failed to land recognition until now. It is unlikely to factor into the Oscars nominations, announced later this month.
Parker was nominated alongside Davis for "Lion," Kelly Fremon Craig for teen coming-of-age tale "The Edge of Seventeen," Tim Miller for raunchy superhero action "Deadpool" and Dan Trachtenberg for sci-fi thriller "10 Cloverfield Lane."
The winners of both categories will be announced at a dinner ceremony on Feb. 4 in Beverly Hills.
"La La Land," about two struggling artists falling in love against the backdrop of Hollywood, has emerged as the film to beat this year, sweeping last week's Golden Globes with seven wins including best comedy/musical film. It also leads Britain's BAFTA awards with 11 nods.
Notable snubs this year include Martin Scorsese for his 19th century missionary tale "Silence," Denzel Washington in family drama "Fences," Mel Gibson for war drama "Hacksaw Ridge" and Tom Ford for stylistic thriller "Nocturnal Animals."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Alan Crosby)