I say “Casey Affleck” and you think “Ben Affleck’s kid brother”, or “Isn’t he in some movie about Manchester?”, or even “Wasn’t he the kind of annoying lad with the puny ‘tache in Ocean’s Eleven?”. And you would be correct on all fronts. Affleck has been the talk of Hollywood these last few months due to his performance as the reluctant guardian to his brother’s orphaned son in Manchester by the Sea. Not only is he tipped to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, he’s considered a shoe-in for the win.
But what about his history of sexual harassment? Media coverage of this “hometown Boston boy” has so far tip-toed around the sexual harassment suits filed against him in 2010 by two co-workers. Only the Daily Beast appeared to pick up on the rather minuscule footnote mainstream media such as Variety and New York Times gave the allegations as they fawned over his performance and generally awkward likeability. In response to one request for comment, Affleck said “I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everybody has families and lives.”
But the truth is these allegations were not simply a fame-hungry attempt to smear “family man” (and recently separated) Affleck. While working on that cringeworthy mockumentary I’m Still Here with his then-brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix, two female crew members filed separate multi-million-dollar lawsuits against Affleck for sexual harassment. Amanda Walsh was a producer on the movie and claimed Affleck was extremely inappropriate with her on numerous occasions, including demanding a fellow crew member show her his penis and later “grabbed her in a hostile manner in an effort to intimidate her into complying” when she refused to stay in a hotel room with him. Director of photography Magdalena Gorka made similar claims of physical and verbal harassment, including recounting a story where, following a late night shoot, she woke up to find Affleck lying next to her in bed with his arm around her. He then got angry when she demanded he leave. Both cases were quickly settled out of court for undisclosed sums.
The truth is that these women have a lot of things going for them that many victims of sexual offences are unfairly held accountable for. They were not drunk, or at a party, there were no blurred lines over “consent” (aka the most frustrating word of 2016), they were not “inappropriately dressed”. They were at work. They did not sell their stories to for a cash windfall and some lightning-fast fame. Their respective cases actually began because Affleck refused to professionally credit them – after Gonka resigned due to the harassment, Affleck refused to give her the agreed Director of Photography credit and White claimed that she had yet to be paid for her work as producer. This is about as black and white as harassment cases go, yet there’s a struggle to correlate Affleck’s likeability with these accusations, and so the grimy details get tucked under the proverbial rug.
So when do these troubling charges start affecting how likeable (and therefore, how bankable) male celebrities are? If you’re Johnny Depp, you can still star in one of the most morally-forming teen universes of our generation, mere months after your bruised wife filed for a divorce and a restraining order. In the case of Nate Parker, the young actor/director at the helm of Sundance Grand Jury Prize and Audience Prize-winning film Birth of a Nation, it took the suicide of his alleged rape victim for the media to begin asking hard questions of him.
Making the news this week is the Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci confessing that he and Marlon Brando kept details of the butter rape scene from co-star Maria Schneider so as to capture her “reaction as a girl, not as an actress”. Schneider had said repeatedly in the years before her death in 2011 that she had been kept intentionally in the dark and felt violated by their actions.
Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again. This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage https://t.co/uvaLogvv7I
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 3, 2016
— Anna Kendrick (@AnnaKendrick47) December 3, 2016
Why does it take a man confirming the story to give it credit? Or the loss of a life to force the hand of the media to ask the difficult questions? Considering the number of famous women coming forward in recent years to confess they have been sexually assaulted (Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Evan Woods, Madonna), why is our default reaction that the victim is a liar unless proven otherwise? And, more troublingly, why do we continue to turn a blind eye to the prevalence of sexual assault? According to the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, in 2014 about two-thirds of all sexual violence in Ireland went unreported. But can you blame a victim for not reporting when all they can expect is to be blamed?
So is Casey Affleck guilty? Is he innocent? Has Hollywood been overly harsh on Nate Parker? These are questions we may never have definitive answers to and this is not a request for the wholesale move of de facto guilt from the accuser to the accused. But just because these incidents do not fit with the public image of celebrities does not mean they are not relevant. We must be as informed as possible and stop shying away from the tougher, more complex questions of our celebrity-obsessed culture.