Casey Affleck’s Oscar win cast a rather large shadow over Manchester by the Sea’s academy recognition.
The actor currently stands accused of sexual assault. After he was nominated Constance Wu criticised the Academy for giving someone who has had to settle out of court with not one, but two women who have accused him of harassing them. The allegations against Affleck date back to 2010 when he was filming I’m Still Here. Cinematographer Magdalena Gorka said that Affleck directed advances and lude comments at her daily. She says that she woke up one night to find him in bed with her, smelling of alcohol and caressing her back. It got so bad that Gorka felt she had no choice but to quit the film.
Gorka’s experience was echoed by producer Amanda White, who says she was also subjected to rude comments and inappropriate behaviour. She says that when she rejected his advances he violently grabbed her.
The reaction to his win, understandably, was mixed, to say the least with Brie Larson, who read Affleck’s name from the envelope, refusing to applaud him. She, of course, has been an advocate for the survivors of sexual assault since her performance in Room.
Less than a week has passed since the above unfolded on stage and Affleck has now spoken out against the allegations against him in an interview with the Boston Globe.
The interviewer, Mark Shanahan, writes that when asked ‘Affleck paused and sighed heavily’ before saying that ‘both sides in the case are prohibited from commenting on the matter’ and affirming that ‘none of the people who are condemning him online knows what happened.’
Affleck then continued, ‘there’s really nothing I can do about it’ before adding ‘wearily’ ‘other than live my life the way I know to live it and to speak to what my own values are and how I try to live by them all the time.’ He also said 'I believe that any kind of mistreatment of anyone for any reason is unacceptable and abhorrent' before adding 'everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace and anywhere else'.
That’s it. That’s all he said.
And, here’s the thing: it’s totally predictable.
The message we are being sent, over and over, these days is that powerful white men can get away with pretty much anything. Is it any surprise when sexism and misogyny are being normalised by the most important institutions in the world? This isn’t just about the Oscars. ‘Grab em by the pussy’ ring any bells? What Trump’s statement and lacklustre public apology did, was to remind women everywhere that powerful men always get their own way because it’s ‘just how boys are’.
Affleck's response is as lacklustre as Trump's 'lockerroom talk' non-apology was, he's right that nobody aside from the people present know what went down. However, the pervasive myth that women make false allegations about this sort of thing to make money/damage the reputations of men is both corrosive and, statistically, unfounded. The reality is that a large number of sexual assaults are still thought to go unreported and the truth is that the percentage of reported rapes which are false is very low.
As someone who once left a job because of daily sexual harassment, my heart sinks every time I read about yet another case of women being forced to watch a man who has harassed them received awards, accolades and praise.
Affleck and Trump are not alone. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Mel Gibson, whose ex-wife filed a restraining order against him after he allegedly punched her several times and was caught on tape saying that she looked ‘like a fucking bitch in heat’ and telling her that she deserved to be raped. Let’s not forget, this is also a man who, in 2006, was filmed on a boozed up anti-Semitic rant.
As if this wasn’t enough, we’re being given rather mixed messages about where the Oscars stand on sexual assault, harassment and racism. Nate Parker (not a white man), who starred in, wrote and directed, The Birth of a Nation, seemed like a shoe-in for an Oscar at one point last year. He was accused of rape, and eventually found not guilty (you can read more about it here) but the circumstances of the alleged event were familiar: inebriated woman says she was too drunk to have sex, man claims she consented, in this particular case the ending was particularly tragic, Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012 after he was found not guilty. Parker may have been found not guilty, but the general consensus was that Oscars voters were influenced by the whole affair.
At the time, Roxane Gay, poignantly wrote of Parker and why she would not be going to watch Birth of a Nation: ‘I cannot separate the art and the artist, just as I cannot separate my blackness and my continuing desire for more representation of the black experience in film from my womanhood, my feminism, my own history of sexual violence, my humanity.’
Of course, we must be careful not to draw lazy parallels. Casey Affleck was not accused of raping anyone but what he does stand accused off well and truly falls within the bounds of rape culture. We'll never know whether or not he was guilty of that because the case was settled out of court.
When a man who has behaved in such a way is given the highest possible award for his work, which will boost his career and take his stardom to stratospheric heights it only further serves to reinforce the accepted norms of sexism, sexual harassment and rape culture. It reminds women that they won’t be listened to, that their experiences won’t be taken seriously and that the prevailing sentiment is still that they should ‘put up and shut up.’
Women who are subjected to sexual harassment at work might, as I did, quit. I didn’t file a claim like Gorka or White (perhaps I should have done), I left quietly, made my excuses and found another job.
When we not only overlook the actions of abusive men but put them on global stages, we validate their behaviour. In doing that we invalidate the women that have been affected by their actions and risk missing out on their professional contributions to society.
You can’t separate the professional from the political or the personal. The personal is political and with great public platforms comes responsibility. Over half of women experience sexual harassment at work, according to a 2016 report from the Trade Union Congress in partnership with Everyday Sexism. When the men who harass them, who have behaved in a sexist, sexually violent or misogynistic way take to acclaimed platforms and win awards, it's women everywhere who lose.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.