Did the Oscars Forget About the Time Kobe Bryant Was Accused of Rape?

In the age of #MeToo, how did the NBA star take home gold?

Kobe Bryant holding an Oscar

(Photo: Getty)

At the 90th annual Academy Awards on Sunday night, retired NBA player Kobe Bryant won an Oscar for his short animated film, Dear Basketball. Any other year, 39-year-old Bryant’s win would have only raised the eyebrows of those who remember he was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman over a decade ago, but the victory likely wouldn’t have caused a huge stir. After all, the Oscars has a history of handing out awards to men accused of abusive behaviour, like convicted sex offender Roman Polanski and Casey Affleck, who won a Best Actor statuette in 2017 despite being accused of sexually and verbally harassing women in 2010. But now, the landscape has shifted.

In the age of #MeToo and Time’s Up (which were prevalent themes at the 2018 Oscars), the allegations made against Bryant—which were eventually settled in a civil lawsuit, with no criminal conviction—should have been enough for the awards show to disqualify him from the race. The Academy did the right thing when it expelled disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein after countless allegations of sexual assault, and when it seemed to snub James Franco following allegations of sexual misconduct. So why on Earth did the Oscars look past Bryant’s violent rape allegation and give him a golden statue?

In case the details are fuzzy, in 2003, Bryant was arrested and charged with sexual assault after a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee said that the NBA star raped her while he was a guest at the luxury lodge she worked at. As reported by the Washington Post in 2004, in a statement to police “the young woman said she went to Bryant’s room at his request and willingly kissed and hugged him, but then tried to leave when he wanted to go further. She said he then grabbed her by the neck, bent her over a chair and violated her as she cried and protested.” Bryant, who was 24 at the time of the alleged incident, admitted he had sex with the hotel worker, but maintained it was consensual.

The aftermath of the alleged rape is harrowing. As also reported by the Washington Post, the alleged victim was “harassed with death threats and obscene messages, stalked by private investigators and hounded by reporters.” The woman’s name and address was shared online and reported in the press. Her motives were questioned, her sexual history scrutinized, her reputation attacked, and her attempts to protect her identity ignored. The criminal charge was dropped in 2004 when the woman wouldn’t testify in court. She filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant and that case was settled in 2005. The basketball player also issued her an apology. “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” he said.

Bryant’s career remained largely unscathed and most people forgot about the incident. That is, until now.

Before Bryant took home the Oscar, a petition started circulating online asking the Academy to rescind the athlete’s nomination. As of this writing, nearly 17,000 people have signed the document. After Bryant accepted his award, many people shared their frustrations online over his win. “Kobe Bryant’s Oscar Win Reminds Us That Time Is Not Up For Everyone,” read a Jezebel headline.

The Academy’s decision to award Bryant is infuriating. There should not—and can not—be a double standard when it comes to allegations of sexual assault. It’s not enough to ban Weinstein from Hollywood and pretend that Franco doesn’t exist. The Oscars need to take a legitimate stand against sexual misconduct and prove that they do not tolerate it. Any of it.

When the Academy presents an Oscar to someone who has been accused of sexual assault, it’s saying that the voice of the accused is more important than the voice of the alleged victim. It’s sending a message that says men are still more powerful, and even if women do come forward with allegations, they may not be believed. These toxic messages are against the core principals of the #MeToo and Time’s Up initiatives.

During the show, many women—including Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino and Jennifer Lawrence—were vocal about the changes that need to happen in the industry. While it’s incredibly important that women’s voices are heard, the weight of change cannot solely rely on these leading ladies. It must come from all sides, including the powerful governing bodies that decide whose work is deserving of recognition and whose work is not.

Because, really, what’s there to celebrate about an alleged rapist?

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