The Downfall Of Awards Season So Far Is The Celebration Of These Controversial Men
Like millions of others, I tuned in to the Golden Globes on Sunday night preparing to be entertained: by the host, by the witty banter, by the experience of seeing favorites like La La Land and Donald Glover win awards and give memorable speeches. Yet, while much of the show lived up to just that, there was one big moment that wasn't entertaining in the slightest — Casey Affleck, accepting his Lead Actor Globe for the film Manchester by the Sea. Although I had known that an Affleck win was likely, seeing it actually occur was still upsetting. I'd hoped, perhaps naively, that the Globes would choose not to honor Affleck in light of those sexual harassment allegations. Instead, the show celebrated his success with one of its biggest awards of the night, choosing celebrate a man who has been accused of physically intimidating one woman and climbing into the bed of another's without her permission.
Affleck has denied the claims, with his lawyer telling The Hollywood Reporter in 2010 that "the allegations brought upon our clients are preposterous and without merit. Ms. White [one of the accusers] was terminated from the production over a year ago. She and her lawyers believe that this maliciously and erroneously filed complaint will cause the producers to succumb to her outrageous and baseless demands. She is mistaken.”
Whatever happened, the fact is that these allegations exist, and, as the Golden Globes showed, many people are choosing to ignore them completely and root for Affleck's success. This shouldn't come as a surprise in the slightest. Affleck is an intensely privileged figure in Hollywood; he's the younger brother of Ben Affleck, friends with everyone from Brad Pitt to Matt Damon, and an actor long considered an underdog in Hollywood. His recent success due to Manchester has been celebrated by many, with the Globes being just the latest example. It's very likely that come February, he'll pick up a Best Actor Oscar, and win a standing ovation from an audience who's rooted for his success for so many years.
In the eyes of many, Affleck is a true Hollywood success story, a talented, long-underrated guy who deserves all the success he can get. But Those pesky sexual harassment allegations? Not relevant. Although the allegations against him haven't been totally ignored by the media, by and large, they've been a non issue this past awards season. Instead, awards ceremonies, countless reporters, and the public at large have chosen to focus on Casey Affleck, The Underdog, not Casey Affleck, The Man Twice Accused Of Sexual Harassment.
This isn't to say that any action should be taken against Affleck; the lawsuits the two women filed were settled out of court, and there hasn't been an admission of guilt. But that doesn't mean the accusations should be ignored, either, and that Affleck should be celebrated with Hollywood's highest honors — especially considering how the media and public treated Nate Parker due to the sexual allegations against him. Parker, as you may recall, was the director and star of The Birth of a Nation, considered for much of 2016 to be an Oscar frontrunner. Yet when reports came out that a college-aged Parker had been accused of raping a woman (a claim for which he was later acquitted), the backlash started immediately. Birth of a Nation suffered both financially and critically, and Parker, not helped by his defense of the allegations ("I was proven innocent, and I’m not going to apologize for that"), was practically blacklisted.
Of course, the allegations against Affleck and Parker are different, and accusations of rape are generally considered worse than those of harassment. Yet it's still upsetting to see that while Parker, perhaps rightfully, suffered immensely due to his past allegations, Affleck has only thrived. The fact that Hollywood has a well-documented history of racism likely has something to do with the discrepancy; yes, the two men's cases would probably be treated differently no matter what, but there's no denying that Parker being black, while Affleck is white, has something to do with it, too.
Unfortunately, Affleck is far from the only example of Hollywood forgiving the past of a white, powerful, well-connected man. Sitting in this year's Globes audience as a nominee was Mel Gibson, who, as you might recall, made headlines 10 years ago for releasing a racist, anti-Semitic tirade, in which he called out the "F***ing Jews" for causing "all the wars of the world," and then again four years after that, for a 2010 phone call in which he suggested his then-girlfriend get "raped by a pack of n***ers." Although Gibson was blacklisted for numerous years, it seems that Hollywood has decided it's time to forgive him, as not only was Gibson in attendance at the Globes, but he was nominated for Best Director for his film, Hacksaw Ridge.
Although Gibson didn't win any awards at the Globes, the fact that this past year has seen both Hacksaw and Gibson himself being treated with nothing but goodwill from many critics and audiences meant that a win was certainly in the realm of possibility. If he had won, I know that I wouldn't have been able to watch; seeing a man who's been so blatantly anti-Semitic, racist, and misogynistic stand on stage and be applauded for his contributions to society would've simply been too much.
Yet even without Gibson winning, the fact that he a Globes honoree, sitting in the televised audience, interviewed on the red carpet, and nominated for a prestigious award that specifically honored his work was incredibly frustrating. Yes, 10 years have passed since that DUI — but only six have passed since that phone call, and there's no statute of limitations on spouting the sort of offensive rhetoric he once spoke. Hopefully, he's changed his tune in these past few years, that doesn't excuse what he's said in the past.
Again, Affleck and Gibson's stories are extremely different — one man was accused of sexual harassment, while the other was recorded saying extremely offensive things multiple times. Yet they share one key thread: both men are white, influential, and connected. Before his short-lived downfall, Gibson was a major movie star, one of Hollywood's most recognizable and powerful faces, just like Affleck is quickly becoming, thanks to his Manchester-induced rise.
As the Globes so distressingly showed with its treatment of both Gibson and Affleck, Hollywood seems to have decided that men can be forgiven for anything, as long as they're white and powerful and beloved. It's a troubling message to send to viewers, particularly women, but one that, as awards season continues, I'm sadly confident will likely be repeated time and time again.
For me, and I know so many others, seeing Affleck and Gibson at the Globes, being celebrated by so many of their peers, was heartbreaking. Most likely, Gibson won't win Best Director at the Oscars or any other major show, and thus we won't have to witness seeing him take the stage and be applauded by his peers, but Affleck will probably go on to win Best Actor at the SAGs and the Oscars. As his Globes win showed, critics have decided that the allegations against him aren't enough to keep him being crowned a member of Hollywood royalty.