Celebrities accused of sexual assault face little to no repercussions, and continue to be forgiven by audiences and other artists through the giving of awards and jobs.
When the accusations began pouring out against Bill Cosby, detailing decades of rape and assault, the media was shaken. “America’s Dad,” as it turned out, had been drugging, assaulting and groping women since the 1960s, with no repercussions. Any suits filed against him he settled with money. Women who spoke out were silenced or ignored. It wasn’t until the comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist during a stand-up routine that people began taking a hard look at Cosby’s history. As disgusting as these actions were, they also provided an avenue for a dialogue about celebrity sexual assault. Cosby, though a particularly horrific case, is not the only male celebrity to use his power to assault women (and in some cases children) and get off scot-free. Cee Lo Green, Mike Tyson, Kirk Douglas, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Chris Brown and Bryan Singer are just a small sampling of the men who have been accused of physical and/or sexual violence against women and children, not even to mention the fact that our president, Donald Trump, has been accused of marital rape and openly admitted to groping women.
The argument was rekindled when, during Oscars season this winter, Manchester by the Sea began garnering numerous awards. The movie itself is irrelevant: what is important is the lead actor and director, Casey Affleck. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu called out Affleck on Twitter on Jan. 24, alleging that he assaulted two women during production on his 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here. The women in question both filed lawsuits after the incidents and settled out of court. Wu attacked both Affleck himself and the Oscars for continuing to give sexual offenders awards for their art. She said, ““Men who sexually harass women 4 OSCAR! Bc good acting performance matters more than humanity, human integrity! … bc Art isn’t about humanity, right?” She followed with, “He’s running for an award that honors a craft whose purpose is examining the dignity of the human experience & young women are deeply human.”
Wu’s tweets highlight the main issue with these incidents: Men with power get away with using and abusing women, and they continue to get rewarded for their art. Casey Affleck is undeniably a talented actor and director. Cee Lo Green and Chris Brown are popular singers and performers. Midnight in Paris is one of my favorite movies. But the question remains: Is it possible to appreciate someone’s art while not condoning their actions off-screen? Is it okay that I love Midnight in Paris, or is the fact that Woody Allen has been accused of sexually assaulting a child indelibly linked to the film? Essentially, can art be separated from the artist?
To most, the answer is clearly yes. Manchester by the Sea did exceptionally well in the box office and in award shows. Chris Brown sells out concerts regularly. Bryan Singer’s X-Men films do just as well as they did before he was accused of rape. As a society, we are willing to forgive the rich and famous for no apparent reason other than they are rich and famous. (An exception being Nate Parker, star of Birth of a Nation, who was acquitted of rape in college but whose film did poorly as a result of the news breaking before it premiered).
However, isn’t a person’s art a reflection of themselves? When an actor makes a film, even though he is acting as a different character, he is still a person who benefits from the film doing well. Investing in art made by sexual predators and offenders financially and metaphorically forgives and normalizes their actions. Giving awards to these people indirectly rewards them for what they do. Sometimes it’s even more direct; sometimes these offenses even make it onto the screen. In Last Tango in Paris, the scene where Marlon Brando’s character performs a sex act on Maria Schneider, was planned without her knowledge or consent, and shot without asking her beforehand. The director, Bernardo Bertolucci even said that he didn’t want her to know what was going to happen because he wanted her reaction as a woman, not as an actress. A woman was literally raped on-camera, and the ensuing film was lauded by audiences and critics, winning some international awards. This is not okay. This should not be normal. Celebrities who sexually assault other people should face some sort of retribution, be it jail time if the victims choose to press charges, or being blacklisted by Hollywood. Directors, producers and other actors should refuse to work with them. We need to trust when victims testify that this has happened to them, as opposed to listening to their attackers simply because they are famous. We need to stop supporting celebrities who use their power to hurt women and children.