Where is the line drawn on which alleged abusers’ films should be awarded? Should one person prohibit the recognition of the rest?
With the #MeToo movement sweeping Hollywood for the last couple years, more victims have felt safe enough to vocalize their abuse stories. A multitude of abusers have been outed (both confirmed and unconfirmed) in the wake of this movement, forcing people to be accountable for their actions. Not only are abusers being held accountable, but those who choose to work with confirmed and alleged abusers have also been regarded with scrutiny. In addition, awards season makes the public question not just people, but the accolades won by those accused, and their films.
There are many questions and debates surrounding the appropriateness of abusers being nominated for awards. At present, there are no standard rules in place preventing those accused of being nominated. The decision is completely left to the discretion of those in charge of each award show. Of course, the court of public opinion surely has some degree of influence over those decisions, but it is by no means a governing body.
The most recent film to create a huge internet debate is Bohemian Rhapsody. While initially earning a nomination for best film at the GLAAD Awards, it has since been redacted due to recent allegations of sexual assault against the film’s director, Bryan Singer.
Varied opinions on GLAAD’s decision to remove Bohemian Rhapsody’s nomination flooded the internet. To summarize, most opinions fell on one of two sides. The first, GLAAD made the right call because the quality of a man’s work does not matter if the man in question has committed irredeemable acts. Support to victims is demonstrated by not promoting or awarding Singer, nor his film. The second opinion felt that this film was more than just one man’s work, a man who was indeed fired partway through production, and the hundreds of others who worked on this film are being punished because of the actions of one person.
The BAFTAs seem to take the second opinion. Instead of rescinding Bohemian Rhapsody’s best film nomination completely, they’ve removed Bryan Singer’s credit to the award.
Most of you probably have an opinion one way or the other, but does that mean the other opinion is wrong? Is there not merit to both sides of the argument? Whose decision is it to make this call? Is there a right decision, or is it a lose-lose situation? The debate GLAAD and Bohemian Rhapsody have created perfectly encapsulates the social conundrum these academies are currently facing: Where is the line drawn on which abusers’ films should be awarded? There’s no clear answer to this question, a fact no better demonstrated than the public’s own conflicting responses to various actors, filmmakers, and films.
Should all take the fall for one?
Films can be behemoths of a project to make, consisting of hundreds of cast and crew, particularly for films that tend to get nominated at the Oscars. If it’s revealed that a crew or cast member has been accused of something heinous, should that automatically cancel a film’s chance at accolades? They do say one bad apple spoils the bunch. In the case of Bohemian Rhapsody, GLAAD certainly felt that way. GLAAD, among many others’ in the public, felt that any recognition given to a film associated with Bryan Singer would not be supportive to his victims, and other victims in general. Removing the film from the nomination list is their way of taking a stance against people like him, and showing support to those wronged.
On the other side of this conversation is the idea that the contribution of one bad apple should not eliminate the work done by hundreds more good apples. Let’s look at Manchester by the Sea. When Casey Affleck was nominated, and won, for his lead acting role in 2017, the public was largely unimpressed. It was felt that his real life transgressions should have prevented him from being honored in this way. The backlash was so severe, Affleck chose not to attend and present at the Oscars the following year.
However, Kenneth Lonergan also won an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea that year, for best screenplay, and nobody appeared to have a problem with that. The thought was that Casey Affleck was just the actor, he had nothing to do with the script, so why shouldn’t Lonergan be awarded for his work? Similarly, when House of Cards star Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual harassment, he was subsequently fired from the series and it continued without him. House of Cards was more than just Kevin Spacey. Should all the people employed on this project lose their jobs because of the actions of one person?
Then there’s Mel Gibson, who has managed to have continued success in Hollywood, despite accusations of homophobia, antisemitism, and domestic violence. Indeed, in 2016 Gibson was Oscar nominated for directing Hacksaw Ridge. Although the Academy seemed to disregard his offenses, the public was not so forgiving at the time. Despite the fact that the film did well in the box office, many felt its inclusion in the Oscars was in poor taste. Hacksaw Ridge was also nominated for best film, and won for film editing and sound mixing, the latter two being categories Gibson did not win for.
Why is it that Hacksaw Ridge or Bohemian Rhapsody should suffer as a whole, whereas Manchester by the Sea or House of Cards get a pass? This leads to our next question.
Does the role and involvement make a difference?
There’s a common thread in the above examples. Films that include an accused actor should only penalize the actor, whereas films that include an accused director should penalize the director and film. Public opinion seems to feel that a director makes up enough percentage of a film’s creation to warrant the entire film’s penalization due to the director’s crimes. Admittedly, a director does have a heavier hand than an actor in the creation of a film. In that way, a film is more ‘their’ movie than an actor’s. Then again, naysayers would say that the singular role of directing should not punish roles like acting, editing, writing, etc.
At what point is someone’s involvement ‘too much’ to warrant a film’s blacklisting? Should it only be the respective position of the accused that is prohibited from accolades? Is there a point where the abuser’s role extends far enough to justify nobody getting recognition? Is someone like Woody Allen, who directs and writes his films, an example of this? 2014’s Blue Jasmine‘s Oscars run would say differently. Allen was nominated for best screenplay, and Cate Blanchett won for best actress. While the public has been calling foul on Woody Allen films getting nominations for years amidst his controversy, they’ve also taken to criticizing actors who choose to work with him. Should we expect the cast and crew of a film to know about accusations against someone they’re working with? Is it fair to also expect them to work on that film if they do know?
Are actors to be blamed for working with those accused?
Despite the very public knowledge of Woody Allen’s history and personal controversy, he still manages to get star-studded casts for his films. But if the public are anything to go by, these actors are as much at fault as academies who award him. Most recently, Timothée Chalamet came under fire for working with Allen on A Rainy Day in New York. He later apologized, and vowed to donate his salary to charity.
Like Woody Allen, Bryan Singer’s controversy has spanned nearly two decades, and his behavior has been public knowledge for just as long. Why then, do we excuse someone like Rami Malek for working with Bryan Singer, when surely he should have known about the accusations? What of Andrew Garfield, who did know about Mel Gibson’s past, and still chose to work with him? At what point do we stop saying an actor ‘should have known,’ or ‘should have known better’? Where is the distinction between an actor who made a mistake that can be forgiven, and an actor who’s completely thrown away their values?
Does crime or time make a difference?
Some of those accused and convicted (legally and socially) are currently blacklisted in Hollywood (see Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey), and some have made a comeback, like Mel Gibson. Some have crimes from a decade ago that have only recently come to light. For example, James Gunn tweeted tasteless and inappropriate jokes years ago that he has since apologized for, yet one studio deems it a fireable offense, and another doesn’t appear to care.
Why does it seem we’ve collectively chosen to forgive Mel Gibson; why has it taken so long to take the accusations against Bryan Singer seriously; why do we forgive (or not forgive) James Gunn? The crimes each are alleged of or committed are so varied, can they even be compared? Is hate speech better or worse than pedophilia? Is one more forgivable than the other? Is one more forgivable than the other over time? Are these comparisons even fair? To be sure, they’re uncomfortable questions, and yet we expect organizations like award shows to have the answers, when we as an audience don’t even have a consensus.
At what point is the audience accountable?
In a similar vein to our first question, there are some who believe that paying to see a movie like Bohemian Rhapsody, Hacksaw Ridge, Manchester by the Sea, or Blue Jasmine is unsupportive to abuse victims, and there are those who believe that all those who worked on a film shouldn’t be punished because of one. As has been presented though, the one thing that’s clear in all of this is that this choice is anything but clear. A perfect example of this moral dilemma came with the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
When domestic abuse allegations against Johnny Depp surfaced, Harry Potter fans waited with baited breath to find out if Depp would be replaced for the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel. Ultimately he retained his position for the second film, and it created a dilemma for a lot of Harry Potter fans: Do I see a film from my beloved series despite not agreeing with the casting, or is this my opportunity to take a stand?
As varied as opinions on this situation were and are, so too were the actions people took. Some went opening weekend, some waited until the following weekend to hurt the film’s coveted opening weekend box office numbers, some saw the film and additionally donated the price of a ticket to charity, and of course, some did not go at all.
When we go to movies like Fantastic Beasts or Bohemian Rhapsody, are we saying we support the accused party’s actions? The box office is our one opportunity to have full control, and demonstrate our stance on an issue. Unfortunately, it’s also not a clear way to take a stance. By going to the film, you contribute to the accused’s success, but you’re also supporting hundreds of other people who worked on the film. By not going, you take a stance against the accused, but you also aren’t celebrating the hard work of many others.
The innocent until proven guilty conundrum
The casting decision of one actor created a moral quandary for an entire fanbase. When audiences of one film can’t even come close to a majority decision on how to proceed amidst Depp’s controversy, how can we expect various people across numerous academies to come to an agreement on varied allegations and crimes?
We live in a society where legally the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but we also live in a society where socially the victim should be taken seriously. Both are important, but unfortunately they are also quite conflicting. It’s easy to say award shows should only blacklist those who have been convicted of a crime, but many of the crimes people are being accused of are basically impossible to prove, or disprove. It then becomes a matter of opinion of those in power, which quickly becomes a slippery slope.
What alleged crime warrants not getting a nomination? Is there a length of time that passes from when the alleged crime took place to present time until an accused can be nominated again? Is it a matter of how many allegations there are against a person that prevents a nomination? Does an accused’s role in the film dictate what it can or can’t be nominated for? Can a film be nominated for best picture if someone on the cast or crew has been accused of something? Does the crime they’re accused of affect that decision? These unanswerable questions present a cyclical problem with no real solution. Of course, that won’t stop many of us from having a steadfast opinion one way or the other.