The 89th Academy Awards got a lot of things right. Diversity was increased, issues were addressed, people of colour actually won awards. Celebrities used their platform to not only graciously accept those awards, but to confront difficult and controversial topics facing Hollywood today. However, we did not see one of the most controversial topics in Hollywood so much as mentioned; that topic being abuse. Instead, we saw Mel Gibson celebrated, and we saw Casey Affleck, a man accused of sexual misconduct, take home the award for Best Actor. Hollywood’s history is full of abuse, often, but not always, by male directors and actors against their female coworkers. Over and over again we have seen men in Hollywood not only be accused but often convicted, and we see them continue to work and continue to be praised. When men are accused of sexual abuse we are told that these accusations can ruin their careers, but we are shown repeatedly that they do not.
Casey Affleck is case in point. He took home the Best Actor award last night, but in the run-up to awards season there was a great deal of talk both on and off the internet about whether or not Affleck would be deserving of such an honour, considering that in 2010 two female colleagues who worked with him on a mockumentary sued him for sexual misconduct. Cinematographer Magdalena Gorka and producer Amanda White alleged many things about the time they worked with Affleck; that he bragged about sexual exploits; that he propositioned and grabbed White; that he instructed a crew member to display his penis - to name a few. Affleck denied wrongdoing and settled both claims. You can read Gorka and White’s claims respectively here.
Nobody but those women and Affleck know whether those claims are true. What we do know is that Hollywood has a dark and bitter history with abuse that it needs to work harder on cleaning up and addressing. Men have so often behaved deplorably and without consequence on and off film sets, to the point where a man’s artistic 'genius' is an excuse for him to behave inhumanely. Many of our 'greats' stand accused of this behaviour; Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski. Hollywood knows that if it were to sift out and ostracise its most abusive contingents, it perhaps wouldn’t have that many 'greats' left.
Affleck’s success and forgiveness in the public eye is indicative of not only male privilege, but of white male privilege, the kind that is so intrinsic to Hollywood. This year’s ceremony indicates a positive shift for Hollywood in many ways, but if it truly wants to become better, then it needs to take women and their accusations seriously. Respected actors need to stop working with and endorsing those accused and convicted of sexual abuse. Separating art from artist only stands to hurt women and benefit the abuser/artist. In fact, rather than harming male abusers’ careers, accusations of abuse often do more to harm women’s. On Sunday night women everywhere saw Affleck holding that statuette and being rewarded; many women saw their own abusers in him, and many felt less inclined to ever report their own abuse.
Marie Claire have published a brave and thought-provoking takedown of the arguments for Affleck, and so have many others, but it is important to add as many voices to the discussion as possible. It’s important to make women feel like they have a voice. Casey Affleck’s win matters because it shows women that their pain does not matter, and it shows men that they can do anything they want so long as they have influence.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.