Casey Affleck won an Oscar despite being accused of sexual assault
Why are we ok with that?
ICYMI, Casey Affleck won the coveted ‘Best Actor’ trophy at the Oscars 2017 for Manchester by the Sea. The award comes in the wake sexual assault allegations by two women who worked with him on a previous movie project. The argument against Affleck’s win is best summed up by ELLE.com writer Sady Doyle in a powerful essay. Here’s an excerpt:
What we lose when we give awards to men like Casey Affleck
White men in entertainment can get away with anything. That one, soul-deadening lesson has been drilled into women’s heads recently. We saw reality TV star Donald Trump caught, on tape, sexually harassing a female colleague and giggling about “grabbing [women] by the pussy”—and we saw America elect him president a few weeks later. We found out that Bernardo Bertolucci and Marlon Brando had assaulted actress Maria Schneider on film to create a rape scene in Last Tango in Paris—and we also found out that, prior to her death, Schneider had been talking about this for years. We saw the image rehabilitation of Mel Gibson, who was similarly caught on tape telling his ex-girlfriend that “you look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n—— it will be your fault,” shortly before threatening to kill her and rape her himself. At the Academy Awards, the 61-year-old Gibson sat in the front row, racking up awards for Hacksaw Ridge and merrily chortling along at jokes about O.J. Simpson. And Casey Affleck took home the prize for Best Actor.
Affleck, for those who are unaware, stands accused of sexually terrorizing female colleagues on the set of his 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here; this allegedly included everything from referring to women as “cows” to insisting that one employee, Amanda White, share his hotel room, then deluging her with abusive text messages when she refused. Another woman, Magdalene Gorka, says she woke up in a private hotel room to find Affleck “curled up next to her in the bed wearing only his underwear and a T-shirt,” according to her complaint. When Gorka managed to get Affleck out of her room, he allegedly rallied crew members to harass and bully her until she quit the project.
Affleck’s Best Actor win isn’t the most upsetting item on this list; for one thing, an Oscar doesn’t come with nuclear launch codes. But it is grim confirmation of an all-too-common pattern. An Oscar provides an invaluable career boost; Affleck will probably get more roles, better roles, and more name recognition as the result of the award. As he becomes increasingly successful, he will become increasingly untouchable; meaning, if the allegations are true, that the women he’s victimized will have less and less chance to be heard. That’s not just damaging to the individuals involved here, but to all women who find themselves victimized by powerful men.
Those predictions may seem bleak, but they’re drawn from a long history of institutional approval of the artistic production of troubled men. Just look at Roman Polanski. No-one doubts that Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl—he admitted to it, not only in his guilty plea, but in an infamous interview where he called her “his victim”—but no-one in the Academy seemed to believe that should pose much of an obstacle to his filmmaking career. When he won Best Director Oscar for his 2003 film The Pianist, the announcement of the award was met with a standing ovation, including (say it ain’t so) Meryl Streep. A beaming Harrison Ford accepted the award for Polanski, who could not attend the ceremony, due to, you know, being a convicted child rapist. (He also won Best Picture that year.)
Polanski is not an exception. Recall Cate Blanchett in 2014, awkwardly framing her Best Actress win for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine as a victory for women (“those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they’re not”) and praising his script—despite the fact that Allen’s adult daughter, Dylan Farrow, had just published an open letter in the New York Times, repeating her 1992 allegation that Allen had raped her when she was as young as seven. Farrow specifically cited the fact that “actors praised [Allen] at awards shows” as a source of extreme trauma.
Read the full essay right here.