Applauding Meryl Streep and lauding Casey Affleck at the Golden Globes: Hollywood can't have it both ways
OPINION: In accepting the Cecil B DeMille award during this week's Golden Globes, Meryl Streep strayed from convention.
Instead of speaking about her 40 year history in movies, she gave a speech about the political climate Americans have found themselves in following the election of Donald Trump. Among her most quotable statements was the following: "Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence, and when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose."
The speech was a hit with the audience, most of whom are united in their opposition to its target (the quoted segment in particular being a pointed take-down of President-elect Donald Trump's mid-campaign mocking of Serge Kovaleski, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who also has a physical disability.).
But while I agree wholeheartedly with Streep's sentiment about Trump, it strikes me as telling that few people sitting in that room would think to apply the warning to themselves or their own community.
Specifically, the repeated circumstances in which men in Hollywood disrespect and enact violence against women while using their power to either bully their victims into silence or shore up enough support among their equally powerful friends to ensure no one listens to the allegations anyway.
If you doubt the privilege given to men of means when it comes to neatly sidestepping allegations of crimes against women, Hollywood has conveniently provided yet another example in the lauding of Casey Affleck despite accusations against him recently bubbling to the surface.
Affleck is well known for parts in films like Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting and the Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary, I'm Still Here, which Affleck directed. He has recently been praised for his role in Manchester by the Sea, winning a Golden Globe at the same ceremony at which Streep delivered her take-down of Trump.
Of less importance (apparently) are the allegations of sexual harassment that were levelled against Affleck in 2010 by two of his colleagues. Barely causing a ripple at the time, they have resurfaced now as Affleck enters the awards circuit. But they are still being treated as a minor footnote to an otherwise stupendous rise to fame.
Various media outlets have referred to them by such names as "the controversy" and "the Casey Affleck hoo-hah". Hollywood blogger Jeffrey Wells (responsible for the "hoo-hah" descriptor) has been especially dismissive, summing up behaviour (which he admits he did not witness) as being essentially no more than "boorish".
So what did happen? As Rory Carroll reported in the Guardian, "Cinematographer Magdalena Gorka and producer Amanda White alleged that behind the scenes [of I'm Still Here] Affleck verbally and sexually harassed them: bragging about sexual exploits, propositioning and grabbing White, sliding into Gorka's bed uninvited and creating a hostile climate by, among other things, instructing a crew member to display his penis."
The women sued Affleck, seeking $2 million in damages. The case was settled out of court (a fact that Wells was quick and eager to point out doesn't mean Affleck is guilty) and talk of it seemed to quickly disappear.
Now Affleck, having won not just praise but also the Golden Globe for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, is everybody's hot pick to win the Oscar in February.
Say, what was that again about how allegations of misconduct towards women will ruin men's careers?
In fact, every time I share an article about men's violence against women, I am invariably met with a percentage of responses urging caution. "What if he's innocent?" the naysayer demands to know. You can't just go around accusing men of criminal acts without any evidence! This could ruin his entire life!
The ferocity of these arguments increase in direct correlation with the reputation of the man in question, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary.
Men's lives are NOT ruined by allegations of sexual assault or misconduct – women's are. It is women who are accused of being liars, gold diggers, famewhores, revenge seekers and troublemakers. This can be seen across the board, from women bringing forward complaints against their schoolmates (Jane Doe in Steubenville, Daisy Coleman in Maryville, Erica Kinsman in Florida) to women alleging crimes against powerful men like Woody Allen, Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, Johnny Depp and President-elect Donald Trump.
Even men whom the public generally accepts are abusers – Charlie Sheen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby and Chris Brown – continue to enjoy overwhelming support not only from their community and employers but also their fans.
Long after the allegations of violent behaviour from Sheen had piled to the ceiling, he was still the highest paid man on television. Allegations against Cosby were summarily discarded for decades before Hannibal Buress talked about it during a stand up set and people suddenly took notice.
Roman Polanski admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl and he still has hundreds of friends in Hollywood who petition for his extradition to be dropped so he can return to America as a free man.
How can anyone continue to declare that even whispers of these things are powerful enough to end a man's career, when the truth is so starkly different?
People don't believe women. They don't want to believe women because believing women means they might have to accept that men they like and admire are also capable of abusive behaviour.
And that in turn means they might have to actually take a stand against some of that behaviour. No. It's far easier to continue to herald and revere these men as 'complex' and treat the subjects of their abuse as spoils for their emotional growth. And why would they change when they are supported at every turn to stay exactly the same?
Consider the words of one anonymous member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), also quoted in Carroll's piece:
"The member, who requested anonymity, said the sexual harassment allegations did not surface during HFPA interviews with Affleck, possibly to avoid offending Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who championed the younger Affleck in their own meetings with the group. 'They both joked that Casey finally needs a Golden Globe. Very much the united front ... and maybe that really protects Casey from real scrutiny. Reminds me a bit of Woody Allen – the liberal press loves him too much to want to really look for the truth'."
So here we are again. Allegations of sexual assault or harassment don't ruin a man's career. They might temporarily ground it, but only until everyone can be assured that public interest has moved on.
Affleck will probably win the Oscar in February. The same people who applauded Meryl Streep's evisceration of Donald Trump will stand and applaud Affleck's win. His earning capacity will increase dramatically alongside his influence.
And those two women, the ones who spoke out against him and then watched as he took nothing but a sliver of embarrassment and a financial hit (since recouped many times over?) Who knows what will happen to their careers? And who cares?
- Sydney Morning Herald