It took just one accusation and Kevin Spacey’s reputation as one of the world’s best-loved actors crumbled overnight.
Last week, Star Trek actor Anthony Rapp claimed the 58-year-old had attempted to sexually assault him in 1986 – when he was 14. Spacey promptly apologised, insisted he did not recall the ‘drunken’ incident and revealed he was ‘now [living] as a gay man’ – the crassness of which was swiftly condemned.
But there wasn’t just one victim. In scenes that are now depressingly familiar, Rapp was followed by others, including US film-maker Tony Montana, who claimed he was ‘forcefully’ groped by Spacey in a bar in 2003 (and left with PTSD for six months). Another man claimed the actor had whispered, ‘It’s big isn’t it?’ as he flashed him. A third told the BBC he woke up with the actor on top of him as a teenager.
Days later, the actor Dustin Hoffman was alleged to have sexually harassed a 17-year-old girl in 1985. Brett Ratner, who has 115 director and producer credits to his name, was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment (he denies the allegations). There will probably have been more revelations, about even more men, by the time you read this.
Last week, Netflix promptly suspended filming of the sixth series of House Of Cards following the claims about Spacey. The International Emmys announced they would no longer be honouring Spacey with the Founders Award this month, given to an entertainment professional ‘whose unique creative accomplishments contribute to the quality of global television production’. Even a $90 online acting course designed by the actor was pulled.
All of which is clearly to be applauded. And yet, I can’t be the only one who felt something akin to guilt after the Spacey revelations. This time last month, I’d have probably said he was one of the best actors of his generation, lauded his performance in House Of Cards or told you his version of Richard III at the Old Vic is still the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage. As with all the recent revelations pouring out of Hollywood, I’ve found it difficult to grapple with the notion that someone so talented stands accused of being such a monster behind closed doors.
Which is why it’s now so difficult to know what to do when faced with his work. My first thought is that we should stop watching anything involving Spacey, Weinstein, Hoffman and Ratner. But to do so would mean ignoring undeniably brilliant (and award-winning) films and TV. Worse, it would also mean punishing the other actors in them.
If we had known what we do now when Weinstein produced Silver Linings Playbook, would we have refused to see the film and denied Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar? When he made Shakespeare In Love, would we have skipped it and served Gwyneth Paltrow another blow after Weinstein assaulted her aged 22?
What about all the other brilliantly talented women who have worked with Weinstein: Emma Watson, Kate Winslet, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett? Should we punish them too? If we turn our backs on House Of Cards, we also risk maligning Robin Wright. As Time magazine’s film critic Stephanie Zacharek wrote, ‘To reject the movies themselves amounts to punishing the victim. It undercuts the fine work that so many women – and decent men – have put into Weinstein- produced movies over the years.’
And yet, by continuing to support the work made by Weinstein, Spacey, et al, these men endure no such punishment. Instead, we hand them back the very power that allowed them to get away with their behaviour for so long. That extremely dangerous power which lies in prestige and talent. It’s what has allowed Mel Gibson, after accusations of homophobia, anti- Semitism, racism and domestic violence, to walk straight back into Hollywood (he won a Best Director nomination at the Oscars this year). It’s also presumably what Weinstein was banking on when he begged the film industry for a ‘second chance’ as he traipsed to rehab last month – before leaving after a week.
Later this year, Woody Allen – who was accused of sexually abusing his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow, in 2014 – will release his most recent film, Wonder Wheel. Its star, Kate Winslet, has already been questioned for her decision to work with the director. Her response perhaps betrays her own turmoil: ‘It’s just a difficult discussion. I’d rather respectfully not enter it today.’ It is a difficult discussion, but it’s one we do have to enter into. I’ve loved Woody Allen films in the past, including Annie Hall and Manhattan. But I won’t be going to watch this one. To do so would suggest that, if you have enough talent, accusations of serious criminal behaviour don’t matter. Case in point: Casey Affleck’s Oscar’s-winning performance in Manchester By The Sea – a film I watched in spite of rumours he had sexually harassed women in the past (claims he denied). I regret it and, months later, I still wish I’d been a bit more like Brie Larson, who refused to applaud him after announcing his win.
Women, and now men, are coming forward about predatory, powerful men, not just in film but in politics, the music industry, the media, fashion. They have created a sea change, a world in which behaviour like this will no longer be tolerated, regardless of who the perpetrator is. Just look at Pink, who revealed she refused to work with producer Dr Luke after allegations of abuse made by Kesha last year. Or the women in Paris last week, protesting outside the opening of a retrospective for the film director Roman Polanski, who is wanted in the US for sexual abuse of minors.
Let’s be a little more like those women. Surely, that’s more important than a couple of hours’ entertainment at the cinema?