- Was an All-American wrestler in high school and college.
- Worked as a computer programmer before being discovered by a talent agent when he accompanied a friend to a modeling convention in Dallas, and was persuaded to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting, even though he had no prior acting experience.
- Big break came in 2007 when Denzel Washington cast him in The Great Debaters, which Washington was directing.
- Made his screenwriting and directorial debut with The Birth of a Nation at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival; the movie sold to Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, establishing a record price for an acquisition at Sundance.
- In March 2016, announced the fall opening of the Nate Parker School of Film and Drama at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.