Hollywood is, like most of the country, owned and operated primarily by rich white men. There have been recent strides in increasing diversity of all types in the media, but it’s pretty clear that one demographic still (unfortunately) reigns supreme. In an industry with rich, straight, cisgender white men at the top, a lot of problematic behavior goes unpunished…and unnoticed. Actually, it is often rewarded.
At this year’s Oscars, Casey Affleck won the Academy Award for best actor. His performance in “Manchester by the Sea” is critically acclaimed and over the span of 2017’s awards season has won him nine awards. All of this praise has put a positive light on a man with a dark past, and many have forgotten the sexual harassment allegations from 2010 involving lawsuits by two women that were settled outside of court for undisclosed amounts of money.
These allegations range from verbal abuse to ordering another employee to expose himself to the women and to lock himself in a room with them with the goal of having sex. All of these allegations, however, were outshined by his success at the Oscar Awards show. Casey Affleck’s nomination and triumph at all of these awards shows only gives him more money, power and influence, which perpetuates this behavior.
This isn’t the first time Hollywood has completely overlooked a straight white man’s problematic past. Woody Allen, a celebrated director and Hollywood giant, was accused by his partner, Mia Farrow, and his daughter, Dylan Farrow of molesting Dylan at the age of seven. He then went on to marry Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen suffered little to no bruises to his career due to these allegations and troubling behavior. He continues to make television shows and movies with the biggest stars in Hollywood as though nothing ever happened.
Sean Penn, another force in Hollywood, has a violent past. During his marriage to Madonna in the 1980’s, Penn was accused of hitting her on the head with a baseball bat. He also allegedly held her captive while binding and gagging her in their home for nine hours. He ruthlessly beat and sexually assaulted her, according to the police report. Madonna dropped the charges and most of Hollywood dropped the memory from their minds. Penn has also been accused of beating a film extra, attacking a paparazzo, and hanging another paparazzo over his balcony. Since all of these allegations, Penn has had no trouble continuing a prolific career and is still winning many awards.
Mel Gibson is yet another one of the many disconcerting men in Hollywood going unpunished for his indecent behavior. He started his string of controversies when he was pulled over for drunk driving in 2006 and went on a sexist and anti-Semitic rant to the police officers. Just four years later, a video leaked of Gibson scolding his girlfriend and the mother of his child, Oksana Grigorieva, for wearing tight clothes. The rant included racial slurs and blatant misogyny that can’t be excused. He has also been arrested for misdemeanor battery with Grigorieva. Yet, the actor and director just won awards for his film “Hacksaw Ridge” this awards season.
Why does it seem that Hollywood has no recollection of the heinous actions of its whitest and brightest men? How can the industry turn a blind eye?
There are, of course, critics that continue to point out how reprehensible it is to continue supporting these men. Constance Wu, John Mulaney, Nick Kroll are just a few that have spoken out this year. However, the overwhelming majority seem to pleasantly gloss over the troubling pasts of Hollywood’s biggest stars to honor their work and artistry.
How can you separate art from artist? Is it morally defensible to praise the art without acknowledging the actions and experiences that brought the artist to that point? It’s important to think about the artist before the art. There are so many amazing artists today, doing important and powerful work on screen and off. When there are hundreds and thousands of people without rap sheets a mile long, making work that matters and that progresses society as a whole, why would you choose to support Affleck, Allen, Gibson, and the like?