To the shock of absolutely no one, Casey Affleck got nominated for an Oscar this week. The Manchester By the Sea star has already nabbed a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Award for his performance and is currently the clear favourite for Oscar glory. So what’s this about sexual harassment and emotional abuse charges, filed against Affleck by two women who worked for him on the set of 2010’s I’m Still Here? As the buzz around Affleck’s Oscar chances builds, so do the whispers around his alleged past conduct. Here, everything you need to know.
Okay, what’s going on here?
It all goes back to 2010, to the set of the movie I’m Still Here, that weird fake doc (y’know, the one where Joaquin Phoenix pretended to quit acting and got in a fight with David Letterman). Affleck was director and writer on that project.
What is he accused of?
Amanda White, who was a producer on I’m Still Here, and Magdelena Gorka, the film’s director of photography, both say that Affleck sexually and verbally harassed them on a regular basis, and claim that he created a sexually hostile environment, repeatedly referring to women as cows and bragging about his sexploits. One day White says he instructed a crew member to pull down his pants and show White his penis, despite her objections. White says Affleck also tried to manipulate her into staying in his bedroom and when she refused, he grabbed her in a hostile manner (read White’s full complaint here). Gorka describes an incident where she woke up to find Affleck (who was married at the time) sleeping in her bed with his arm around her, dressed in only a shirt and underwear. When she insisted he leave, Gorka says, he got angry and slammed the door. (Read Gorka’s full complaint here). Affleck was sued for $2.5 million by one woman and $2 million by the other. Through his lawyer, Affleck claimed he was going to countersue, but that never happened. Both cases were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts.
Has Affleck ever addressed the situation?
Yes. In 2010, Affleck’s lawyer called the allegations “preposterous and without merit,” adding that the actor planned to countersue (as we mentioned earlier, this never happened). In a more recent profile in the New York Times, Affleck responded to the writer via email that the situation was “settled to the satisfaction of all. I was hurt and upset—I am sure all were—but I am over it…It was an unfortunate situation—mostly for the innocent bystanders of the families of those involved.” In a Variety cover story, he commented, “I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want.” Many have also interpreted his Golden Globe speech, which referenced “the noise” around being famous, as an indirect reference to his current predicament.
Why are we only hearing about this now?
The whispers around Affleck are not new, but the situation has intensified with all of the media around his performance in Manchester By the Sea, a major Oscar contender with noms for Best Film and Best Actress (Michelle Williams), alongside Affleck’s Best Actor nod.
But since he was never proven guilty, isn’t he deserving of the presumption of innocence?
Well, isn’t that the million-dollar, explosive-bomb-inside-a-prickly-cactus-covered-in a-layer-of-radioactive-waste question. It’s true, the presumption of innocence favours the accused, but to assume he is innocent is also to decide that his accusers—both of them—are lying. The #Ibelievewomen movement is based on the factually accurate notion that perpetrators of sexual crimes are more likely to lie than the victims, who often come forward at great personal and professional risk. Powerful celebrity men, in particular, often get a pass when it comes to crimes against women, including Chris Brown (who went on to sell millions of albums after treating Rihanna’s face like a football), Johnny Depp (still a marquee Disney star despite abuse allegations from his ex-wife), and Mel Gibson (whose history of battery and bigotry didn’t stop Oscar from calling; his film is also up for Best Picture this year). Among the many issues at play here are power and privilege and how they can insulate a person from answering for their alleged crimes.
What makes Casey Affleck so privileged?
Well he’s a wealthy, white male, for starters. Here is a worthwhile read about sexual assault and white privilege that looks at how the rape allegations against the director Nate Parker basically quashed his movie, whereas Affleck, well, he’s still here. And sure, he’s not a massive movie star of the Matt or Ben or Brad or George variety, but he’s a member of an A-list crew, and makes millions of dollars a movie. Speaking of Matt and Ben, the dynamic duo has been showing up to support Casey a lot lately. Like, way more than usual. Could be a gesture of brotherly/BFF love. Or it could be a circling of some pretty bulletproof wagons, since many major media outlets are unlikely to press Casey on the assault allegations for fear of alienating his big-fish friends and family.
Well, nobody wants to make an enemy out of Matt Damon. Is anyone speaking up about this?
After the Oscar nominations, Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu went on a Twitter rant that began ““Men who sexually harass women 4 OSCAR! Bc good acting performance matters more than humanity,human integrity!Bc poor kid rly needs the help!.” She then released a longer statement on why excellent performances can stand alone, but that the institutions that give out awards should assume a social responsibility. Fresh Off the Boat airs on ABC—the same network that broadcasts the Oscars—so even these tweets could risk future career prospects. A lot of people are also noting that Brie Larson, last year’s Best Actress Golden Globe winner, didn’t offer up the customary hug and/or kiss when she handed Affleck his trophy. Hard not to interpret that as shade.
Okay, okay. So we’ve got a guy who may have done a really bad thing and nobody seems to care, but can’t we separate the work from the individual?
It’s true that when we start to hold artists to a high reasonable moral standard, our viewing and listening options start to diminish. The more beloved the artist, the more fans are likely to do their best ostrich imitation (when David Bowie died, few people mentioned the whole mess with the 15-year-old girl). Wu makes a compelling argument that “awards exist to honour all that art is trying to accomplish in life. So context matters.” Or it matters to some. Look at Woody Allen, whose ex-wife and daughter have accused him of sexual abuse. There are certainly some actors who have said they would not work with Allen, but many more seem to fall over each other to appear in his films. And we’re talking interesting, politically engaged women like Cate Blanchett, Scar-Jo and Kirsten Stewart. So can we choose ignore an artist’s alleged personal conducts? Sure. But should we?
Will all of this hurt Affleck’s Oscar chances?
Hard to say since “this” is still very much a work in progress. Just a few weeks ago, an entire room gave Casey a standing O when he won the Best Actor award at the Golden Globes. That said, the more press and attention Casey gets, the louder the voices calling him out are likely to become. Remember how nobody was talking about the Bill Cosby allegations and then everybody was? Outrage has a way of growing exponentially. How big the snowball could get by the Oscar voting cutoff on Feb. 21 is hard to predict.
What happens next?
The SAG Awards are this Saturday, so watch to see whether anyone even bothers to ask Affleck about the allegations. It’s unlikely, but all it takes is one reporter or media outlet willing to stake their name on this story.
Am I a traitor to my gender if I go see the movie?
No. You’re a traitor to yourself if you don’t make informed decisions about the art and individuals you choose to support. Also, Manchester by the Sea is supposed to be a major downer—do we really need anything else to feel like ass about these days?
The Rape Documentary You Have To See To Believe
From Chatelaine: Natasha Stoynoff Spoke Out About Trump—Now She’s Talking About The Aftermath
Meet the Bartender Raising Awareness About Sexual Assault Training