Sunday night, at the 89th Academy Awards, Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor. Typically, that's a cause for celebration, but instead it was disquieting for many. It reaffirmed the problematic notion that powerful men will always succeed in Hollywood, regardless of the troubling sexual harassment allegations that may trail them. But there was, at least, one silver lining that the internet has latched onto: Brie Larson didn't applaud Casey Affleck. To fans, she said more with that one simple gesture than any words ever could.
Larson hasn't addressed the moment at all, so any conclusions people have drawn about it are pure speculation. (Bustle has reached out to Larson for comment.) Still, it's hard to imagine that the actor — who's been an advocate for sexual assault survivors — wasn't aware of what Affleck's win meant. His nomination sparked controversy long before the ceremony, stemming from lawsuits waged against him back in 2010.
As reported by New York Magazine, two women — a producer and a cinematographer — who worked with Affleck on the film I’m Still Here accused him of verbal harassment and unwelcome physical advances. Amanda White claimed Affleck frequently discussed his “sexual exploits” during filming, asked her to spend the night with him, and at one point directed another crew member to show her his penis, despite her objections. Magdalena Gorka alleged that the actor climbed into her bed while she was sleeping and caressed her back without her permission. Affleck has denied the claims, and the lawsuits were both settled out of court for undisclosed amounts. According to Reuters, Affleck's lawyer issued a statement: "the allegations brought upon our clients are preposterous and without merit." Bustle reached out to a representative of Affleck for additional comment and did not immediately hear back.
Though Affleck's work in Manchester By the Sea was undeniably exceptional, his wins throughout awards season seem to suggest Hollywood voters don't take the allegations seriously. But Larson's reaction was interpreted by viewers to be a subtle stand against the industry's tendency to sweep such dangerous claims under the rug.
It's worth noting that this isn't the first time Larson has been tasked with presenting Affleck with an award. When he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in January, she was also the one left on stage to hand it to him, and, as social media has pointed out, she kept their interaction to a minimum.
And there's a certain irony to the situation. Just last year, Larson starred in Room, a film in which sexual assault was crucial to the narrative, and she's been active in standing up for survivors. After Lady Gaga performed "Til It Happens To You," her song about sexual assault, at the 2016 Oscars, Larson stood up and hugged each of the survivors that joined Gaga on stage as they made their way back through the audience.
Whatever Larson's intention, or lack thereof, many of her fans on the internet took her refrain from applause as an encouraging statement. Despite the severity of sexual harassment claims, and the effect such public allegations may have had on White and Gorka's own careers, Affleck emerged largely unscathed. Some viewers interpreted Larson's pose throughout Affleck's speech as a declaration that that's never OK, and as proof that even when you cannot physically use your voice, you still have one.