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Hollywood takes stand on mistreatment of women at Oscars

Rachel Alfiero, Features Editor

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Let’s face it, the 2017 Academy Awards brought us a host of “WTF” moments. From the all too perfect ending with “Moonlight” beating out “La La Land” to the hilarious moment when Jimmy Kimmel tweeted to President Donald Trump in the middle of the show. I’m pretty sure I even saw Chrissy Teigen fall asleep during someone’s speech.

But something else happened during the Oscars that wasn’t as visible as all of those aforementioned instances. Two people accused of mistreating women came out of the Oscars with statues to their names. Those two individuals, Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck, whether they intended to or not, have become part of this culture’s blasé attitude surrounding sexual assault.

Gibson, who was nominated for directing “Hacksaw Ridge,” came out a winner with two Oscars going to his film. One of the biggest shocks came towards the end of the night when Affleck took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his nuanced performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” Affleck, who seemed somewhat shocked himself that he won, gave a fairly short speech, saying he wished he “had something bigger and more meaningful to say.”

The crowd chuckled a little at his dumbfoundedness, but presenter Brie Larson—a staunch advocate for women’s and sexual assault victims’ rights—stood to the side and withheld applause for Affleck. Afterwards, people took to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the Academy for rewarding Affleck and Gibson.

But Affleck and Gibson are only two more (white male) individuals accused of inappropriate conduct that the film industry has rewarded. Roman Polanski was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 and won an Oscar 20 years later. Or look at Woody Allen, who conspired in an inappropriate relationship with his then step-daughter-turned eventual wife and has been racking up Oscars for decades now.

Back in 2010, two women filed sexual harassment suits against Affleck while working with him in the mockumentary “I’m Still Here.” One of the women, a cinematographer who worked with Affleck on the film, claimed that Affleck snuck into bed with her one night, reeking of alcohol, and caressed her back. When she woke up, she told him to leave and, after some verbal altercations, he left the room and slammed the door. The other woman who filed a suit against Affleck also worked on “I’m Still Here” with him and experienced similar unwanted advances. After one such unwanted advance, the woman rejected Affleck, after which he grabbed her arm aggressively in an attempt to get her to comply.

Both of the women’s complaints against Affleck are available on the internet, so anyone can see for themselves and read the full testimonies. I’ve been researching this topic for a few weeks now, and there’s a lot of angles I could take this article.

I’ve been struggling with where exactly I stand on the issue. The night that the Oscars aired, HBO’s series “Girls” also aired an episode about this same issue: men, who have a high level of power, who (whether they are aware of it or not) use—and, at times, abuse—that power. The episode showed the extreme gray areas that arise in cases of gender and power differences, what constitutes consent (when words don’t play a role) and showcased the point of view of the perpetrator in sexual harassment cases.

I’ve been struggling with what to make out of this entire situation with Affleck. There are so many arguments that could stem from this one case: the idea that men in power don’t get disciplined when they misuse that power, the argument that race plays a card in the whole thing and the idea that this blasé attitude transcends the entertainment business and has seeped into our political system with the election of our president, who has had similar allegations brought upon him.

My point is there’s a lot I was thinking about when writing this article. I do undoubtedly believe that Hollywood is guilty of overlooking people’s past discrepancies and doling out statues to the powerful men who victimize women rather than sympathizing with those women. If that’s what our society has come to, then I’m kind of at a loss for words.

As much as I’m against Hollywood rewarding people who have histories of abusing their power and mistreating women, I feel some strange sense of compassion for Affleck, especially after the amount of research I’ve done on his particular situation. I recently re-listened to an interview between Affleck and podcaster Marc Maron, and although the two didn’t talk about the charges and history behind Affleck’s accusations (because legally Affleck is not allowed to talk about the case to press), I got this strong sense that there was some underlying reference to it throughout the conversation. Affleck noted that he had recently become sober after years of struggling with alcohol addiction and how he feels about people in the spotlight getting the short end of the stick when it comes to false coverage and stories.

“Everyone’s just sort of feeding you into this… their own idea of what’s happening,” Affleck told Maron. “Most people don’t really have time and don’t care that much to think about the lives of others with that kind of nuance. They just want the headline.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to what Affleck said. At some point, people stop caring about the real story and only want to know the headline of what’s happening; they don’t want to look into things further or research what might actually be going on.

All of that aside, I don’t think it was a good move for the Academy to award Affleck the Oscar, regardless of whether he was the best that night. It’s a difficult thing to separate the artist from the art, but sometimes when issues like women’s rights are at stake, it’s the only thing we can do to keep the artist and the art connected while taking a firm stand on an issue.

Only time will tell whether or not Hollywood will continue to place well-known celebrities above issues of common human decency and morality.

Rachel Alfiero is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in Latin American studies and Spanish. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The Student News Service of West Chester University
So It Goes.