The short answer to that is no, and it’s easily observed in two of the Oscar nominees of this year. There’s been plenty of controversy this year, one of which was Casey Affleck‘s Best Picture win for Manchester by the Sea. But before we continue this story, we’d like to preface that by stating we do not condone sexual misconduct by any gender, under any circumstance. We also do not condone racism or violence.
The actor’s performance was marred by two cases of alleged sexual harassment filed against the star in 2010 by two women who were working on his experimental film, I’m Still Here. According to the suits, one of the ladies claimed that he’d crawled into her bed without her consent while he was still sleeping. With the other lady, he tried to pressure her into staying in his hotel room and when she refused, he â€œviolently grabbed [her] arm in an effort to intimidate her into staying.
The complaints also included claims of verbal insults and that a subordinate was asked to expose himself to one of them. Furthermore, the lead actor Joaquin Phoenix and Affleck were alleged to have locked themselves into the two women’s shared hotel room. Affleck has consistently denied the allegations and the cases were settled out of court, the sums undisclosed.
We’ll never know the complete story, and Hollywood has chosen to consider Affleck’s performance separately from his personal life and actions. It’s not socially or morally acceptable to many and critics of the Oscars have voiced their disbelief in Affleck’s win. Actress Brie Larson, who presented Affleck with his award, was in clear disapproval, refusing to applaud his win on stage. But artists, celebrities and morality have never quite gelled as well as we’d expect. And in a time where audio recordings of men claiming it’s all right to grab women and force themselves on them, it doesn’t quite come as a shock that an actor accused of sexual harassment can win an Oscar.
NOT THE FIRST TIME
But it’s not the first time that Hollywood has ever rewarded men behaving badly. After all, another Oscar nominee this year was Mel Gibson, famous for his anti-Semitic rant in 2006, was another man who’d inflicted abuse on his ex-wife Oksana Grigorieva. Gibson had admitted to slapping her, while denying her claims that he’d punched her, knocked a tooth out and given her a concussion. In leaked tapes later, it was revealed he’d launched a verbal tirade against her suggesting she deserved to be raped. Gibson didn’t win the Oscar for Best Director but Hacksaw Ridge did win for Film Editing and Sound Mixing. An acknowledgement nonetheless that Gibson’s talent overrode his personal character.
Then there’s of course Roman Polanski, who won the Best Director award back in 2002 for The Pianist. In 1977, the director was arrested for statutory rape of then 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. He fled to Paris after fears that the judge would sentence him as a child rapist and remains a wanted man in America. Though Geimer has since forgiven him, the Hollywood crowd gave him a standing ovation for his win. Harrison Ford received the award on his behalf and he’s continued to receive accolades for this work over the years, even as the US government continues to demand his extradition.
Let’s not forget Woody Allen, who famously divorced his wife Mia Farrow to marry his step-daughter, Soon Yi after she discovered they were having an affair. Bizarre and amoral as that may seem, it goes further, with recent renewed allegations by his son Ronan Farrow that Allen had sexually abused his daughter, Dylan, back in 1992 when she was 7. Allen won the Original Screenplay award for Midnight in Paris in 2012.
THERE ARE MORE
If you thought these were awful, you’ve missed out Bill Cosby. In over 60 alleged claims of sexual assault, drug-facilitated sexual assault, abuse and rape, which occured during a span of over 40 years from 1965 to 2008, Cosby nevertheless won an Emmy in 1966 for his show. While he’s repeatedly denied the allegations and most cases are well beyond the time where lawsuits can be filed in the States, in 2015, he finally admitted to administering a date rape drug with several young women illegally. He still holds on to his Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous Emmys.
Bill Murray allegedly in his days of drug use, would leave threatening messages on the phone to his family, hit his wife repeatedly and committed adultery, in a court complaint his ex-wife filed during their divorce. To be fair to Murray, his ex-wife was also something of an alcoholic and abusive. The claims were never confirmed and the two separated, with her retaining primary custody of their children.
Then there’s Charlie Sheen, who admitted to drug abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism and much more. In 2015, he revealed that he was HIV-positive and had paid extortionists over US$10 million over three years to keeping his secret quiet. More recently, he allegedly threatened to kill his ex-fianceé Scottine Ross.
The list goes on, but you get the point. Hollywood isn’t a platform for moral high ground and it should not come as a surprise that when it comes to performance, an artist’s oeuvre and his personal life choices are taken into separate account. But this isn’t a strict line in the sand that’s drawn with regards to films. An Oscar-lauded potential this year, Birth of a Nation, was dismissed completely when actor Nate Parker’s past sexual assault case, which he was acquitted, became an issue as the film itself shows a brutal rape scene. (Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012.) In addition, one of the stars of the film, Gabrielle Union, is a past rape victim.
It’s not so much that Hollywood doesn’t care about these issues; it does. Should one’s moral or immoral behaviour be taken into account when it comes to acknowledging good performance? In my opinion, no, because these persons should never have gotten the job in the first place. Morality matters when it comes to employment at the start of employment, not at its end. If you’re only paying attention to the success of a person and discrediting it because of his immoral actions, nothing changes. If Hollywood wants to correct its image as being a silent permitter of bad behaviour, it needs to start by banning actors from work should they be found to be behaving badly, no matter their talent. Simply not listing them on an awards ceremony does nothing, in my opinion. Only by doing so, will they be able to correct this systemic problem.