Awards season is upon us. However, this year the various groups – the Academy chief among them – don’t just have the usual qualitative concerns to address, but also Hollywood’s unfolding sexual assault scandal implicating a host of well-known names. How will they handle the dilemma?
When Casey Affleck took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 89th Academy Awards, he became yet another Oscar winner to be under a storm of sexual harassment. Affleck had been previously accused of two separate counts while shooting his mockumentary I’m Still Here, and though both incidences were settled out of court, the story dragged a dark cloud over Affleck’s win. This was made all the worse when, within the year following the ceremony, a floodgate of sexual harassment accusations was torn open in Hollywood, exposing not only the alleged individuals but an entire deep-seated culture that spent years treating sexual abuse like the status quo.
Now that the floodgates are open, accused individuals like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have faced career-damaging consequences, but the “bigger picture” is still a mystery. How will the respective legacies of the accused affect Hollywood’s own legacy? With awards season already underway, will voters separate the art from an individual’s behavior? And will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disqualify films that are attached to accused individuals?
La-La Land has a seedy past. Over the years, various individuals have made attempts to accuse certain “bigwigs” in the industry of sexual harassment, but their claims ultimately fizzled out. Actors like Corey Feldman and Rose McGowan made claims in the past to call out certain individuals in Hollywood for their lewd conduct, but they were ultimately quieted with threats of legal action. In 2016, Elijah Wood spoke to the Sunday Times about sexual misconduct in Hollywood involving minors, explaining:
“Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organized. There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind. There is darkness in the underbelly. If you can imagine it, it’s probably happened.”
This quote was taken prior to the Harvey Weinstein accusations, and the tides have been turning in favor of the victims ever since. However, Hollywood is no stranger to turning a blind eye to controversy, considering that known sexual predators have won Academy Awards on several occasions. In fact, one of them even received a standing ovation.
In 1977, Director Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Chinatown) was charged with the rape of a 13-year-old Samantha Gailey. Despite the five charges for which the court found him guilty (“rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor”), Polanski fled the United States to Europe, where he has been residing ever since to avoid extradition. Over the years, more women have come out against Polanski, accusing him of sexual harassment, and just this past August, a fifth accuser has stepped forward, claiming that the filmmaker raped her when she was 10 years old.
Despite the accusations, the Academy not only nominated Polanski for a Directing Oscar during the 75th Academy Awards but awarded him with a statuette. Harrison Ford received the award on his behalf, and the audience erupted in applause. In fact, celebrities like Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, and even Meryl Streep, who has been a vocal advocate against sexual abuse, stood up and cheered on account of Polanski’s win.
Woody Allen is another filmmaker marred by similar incidences, but otherwise still revered in Hollywood. He was accused of sexually abusing his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven years old in 1992. However, despite significant evidence against him, the allegations never stuck. Allen had also had an affair with (and ultimately married) his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn.
While publicly responding to the Harvey Weinstein controversy, Allen implied that there would be a Hollywood “witch hunt,” adding that it is “sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up.” Over the course of his 50+ years in Hollywood, Allen has won 4 Oscars, and has been nominated 24 times, and though various actors have spoken out against the filmmaker, his films still attract an impressive pedigree of talent. For example, Kate Winslet said in an interview with The New York Times, “As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don’t know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false. Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person,” adding that she also enjoyed her experience working with Polanski. “I had an extraordinary working experience with both of those men, and that’s the truth.”
So, yes, the problem is the sexual harassment, but also the way with which said harassment is dealt. When an internationally revered community behaves as though abhorrent behavior is second to artistic abilities, how can an iron fist against perpetrators ever come close to making a significant dent?
There is a general hypocrisy in Hollywood that has worn out its welcome. The response to sexual harassment is fleeting and cavalier at best, which makes justice for the victims increasingly more difficult to attain. More and more, these incidents would enter a vicious cycle that have long seemed impossible to end. Following the eruption that has recently made Hollywood a focal point of necessary blame, we appear to have reached a turning point. However, that turning point can only endure if Hollywood is held up to the same standards as everyone else.
The idea that being an artist gives someone an authoritative pass is an insult to the artistic community as a whole, and however Hollywood decides to tackle this crisis, not only directly after an accusation, but in perpetuity, will play a central role in the zero-tolerance treatment in which abusers are handled. So, how far should Hollywood should go? Should the Academy disqualify films which are attached in some way to individuals accused of sexual harassment or should the inclusion of these films be left up to the voters themselves?
Though the nominations have yet to be released (or even voted on, for that matter), there are various films – judging by star power, directors, average critic’s ratings, etc. – that have a shot at earning nominations in the upcoming 90th Academy Awards. For example, Harvey Weinstein has long been an Academy favorite (the films which he has produced have won an accumulated 81 times, according to Forbes, starting with My Left Foot in 1990 and ending with The Hateful Eight in 2016). Films that were produced under the Weinstein Co. in 2017 include such Oscar hopefuls as Wind River with Jeremy Renner and Tulip Fever with Alicia Vikander. So, should their affiliation with Weinstein bar them from the ceremony? Following the Weinstein blowout over the past couple of months, the Academy has since rescinded his membership. The line has been drawn, but how far should it extend? Oddly enough, despite Weinstein’s removal from the Academy, it has yet to rescind memberships for other accused sexual predators, such as Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski.
Kevin Spacey is now also one of the many accused predators in Hollywood. In October, actor Anthony Rapp made a public statement condemning Spacey’s behavior toward him at Spacey’s apartment 30 years ago. Rapp accused Spacey of making sexual advances against him when he was only 14-years-old and Spacey was 26. Since the accusation was made, several other men have come out with similar allegations against Spacey, including Richard Dreyfuss’ son, Harry. To further punish the actor, Netflix has fired Spacey from the series House of Cards and canceled his upcoming biopic of Gore Vidal titled Gore.
However, in terms of Oscar potential, Spacey will next appear as oil tycoon J. Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World. While the narrative of the film appears to revolve mostly around Michelle Williams’ character, the trailer for the film treats Spacey as the sort of icing on the cake. His “reveal” as Getty is the trailer’s final hook, insinuating that TriStar Pictures originally planned on showcasing Spacey’s performance as the film’s crowning coup de maître. His Oscar campaign has since been canceled, though the film will still close the AFI Fest on November 16.
Now, if All the Money in the World loses Academy support come Oscar season on account of its affiliation with Spacey, will that plague other films in which Spacey has starred this year? Edgar Wright’s action comedy Baby Driver has been lauded as an “infectious” triumph in terms of film and sound editing, as well as directing. However, considering that Spacey plays a pivotal role in the film, it begs the question as to how far potential disqualifications will stretch. Does it really matter whether or not an actor is in a starring or supporting role, and should the entire film suffer as a result of one bad apple, so to speak?
This issue also extends to streaming services that are potential awards contenders. President of Amazon Studios Roy Price recently resigned following sexual harassment allegations, adding films like The Big Sick and Wonderstruck into the conversation.
Hollywood and the Academy have been very pick-and-choose when it comes to addressing issues within its core (as mentioned earlier, various sexual predators are still in possession of their Academy membership, although they have since released a statement that stated, “the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over”). Naturally, no industry wants to be tied to negative press, but they appear to only react when they are cast in a shadow that refuses to disappear.
While arguably unfair to the innocent cast and crew members affiliated with a film in which a sexual predator is associated, a line in the sand needs to be drawn. Extreme behavior requires extreme action, and if a lesson is going to be learned from this string of appalling scenarios, then disqualification from the Oscars might be a great way to call attention to the overarching issue. In the grand scheme of things, a missed chance at the Oscars hardly compares to an epidemic of untethered abuse, and seeing as the sexual harassment floodgates are currently open, it begs the question that Hollywood and the Academy ought to feel obligated to answer: if not now, when?
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