Art | Artist
The line between art and artist is ever-thinning. With Affleck winning his Oscar, how do we know when to cross it?
Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.
Email This Story
When the time rolled around during the Academy Awards for the Best Actor prize to be handed out, most everyone watching was filled with uncertainty.
It wasn’t just because this was one of the closest races of the night – essentially a coin-flip between Casey Affleck and Denzel Washington. No, the award was also lent massive political and social weight due to the resurfacing of a 2010 sexual harassment suit brought against Affleck.
When the winner was announced and Affleck crossed the stage, social media accounts across the world exploded – some were happy, certainly, but many were outraged that the Academy awarded the prize to someone they deemed morally bankrupt.
This sequence of events raises a question that has been asked over and over: Can – or should – we separate art from artist? And when?
The 2010 suit involved a pair of Affleck’s former coworkers from the set of “I’m Still Here,” Amanda White (the producer) and Magdalena Gorka (the cinematographer), suing Affleck and alleging that he made unwelcome sexual advances.
Affleck and his lawyer denied the accusations, further alleging that White’s lawyer had attempted to extort Affleck by withholding production documents necessary to make and release the film.
Eventually, the suit was settled “to the mutual satisfaction of both parties,” according to a joint statement by the parties involved. The details of the settlement are unknown; but considering the nature of the situation and comparable scenarios, it likely involved some sort of monetary element, along with strict guarantees not to comment on the case.
Affleck is the wrong example to use
The important things to note about the Affleck case are twofold. First, it was settled, meaning, legally speaking, it cannot be revisited. And second, because it was settled, no evidence was ever presented to confirm or refute the allegations. That is to say, the only people who know for sure what happened are White, Gorka, and Affleck.
We shouldn’t inherently doubt victims in sexual assault cases. But the only concrete fact left is that all three have almost certainly agreed to never discuss the events again.
Further, as is often true of such high-profile cases, the victims themselves may not want their case to be brought back into the media spotlight.
Meanwhile, there are many more cogent examples of sexual misconduct in Hollywood, such as Woody Allen and, particularly, Roman Polanski.
In 1977, the latter of these confessed to and received sentencing for “Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a minor,” that minor being then-13-year-old Samantha Geimer.
Allen, meanwhile, was accused in 1992 of molesting his 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but there is also major controversy surrounding the fact that Allen married Soon-Yi Previn, whom he and his ex-wife Mia Farrow adopted when Previn was between five and seven years old.
Both of these filmmakers have allegations and scandals that are confirmed and unconfirmed, and for Allen specifically, one that, while legal, is altogether disgusting. Yet both Polanski and Allen are still making films, with far less uproar.
A case-by-case basis
All of this isn’t to say that the outrage toward Affleck is misguided, necessarily – it’s just unproductive. Affleck’s is a case to which the facts will never be known for sure, and for which, at least legally speaking, the matter was closed to the satisfaction of everyone involved.
Meanwhile, Allen is still married to Previn, and Polanski went to jail for a mere 42 days.
While neither Previn nor Geimer have expressed dissatisfaction with the results they’ve gotten (Geimer famously said, “[Polanski] said he did it, he pled guilty, he went to jail. I don’t know what people want from him.”), if one wants to make a political statement about the culture of Hollywood, these are the cases to point to.
People scoff at “social justice warriors,” and while I think plenty of that scoffing misses the point, choosing the right cases to champion takes a lot of credence away from those criticisms.
In regards to awards, I think the best practice is what just happened at the Oscars: Give the prize to the most deserving – and if that individual turns out to have committed a severe wrongdoing, sexual misconduct or otherwise, strip them of their prize just like the Olympics.
Because it’s always easier – and rings to me as a harsher punishment – to take an award away later in light of new information, rather than to punish someone for what they may have done.
The court of public opinion will probably never be fundamentally altered. “Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t as motivating as piling on a cause.
But when a cause wants to rally people who aren’t already on board, that cause needs to pick its battles and use the most convincing – and damning – examples.