From Ed Sheeran’s lyrical ability to the Repeal the Eighth campaign, my university friends and I cover a multitude of topics in our group chat.
Most recently, we discussed the ethical subtext of going to see Manchester By The Sea, the movie which won Casey Affleck an Oscar for best actor at this year’s Academy Awards.
Despite rave reviews, I refused to see it due to two sexual harassment cases that had been brought against Affleck by a female producer, Amanda White, and director of photography, Magdalena Gorka, both of whom had worked with Affleck on a previous project.
The allegations were extensive and disturbing, ranging from a daily diet of highly sexualised, offensive comments, abusive texts messages when White refused to have sex with Affleck, to physical intimidation where Gorka claimed she woke in the middle of the night to find Affleck lying in bed next to her.
The cases were settled for undisclosed terms out of court in 2010..
Since I was aware of this story, I felt that going to see the film would be a betrayal of my feminist principles, but some of my friends disagreed.
We argued about the necessity of separating art from the artist, or of how far back in history we should go to set those boundaries.
Should we stop listening to Elvis because he began a relationship with Priscilla at an alarmingly young age?
Never watch Annie Hall, again because Woody Allen was accused of abusing Dylan Farrow, his adoptive daughter?
Should we research every movie and TV show, book, and album, to ensure that no one involved has an unsavoury past? Would such a thing even be possible? Shouldn’t we just be allowed to enjoy the things we enjoy?
It was an interesting conversation, but the next day as I was texting another friend of mine, I began to realise the true implications of what Casey Affleck’s Oscar win meant.
How are you today, I asked her. I’m tired, she replied. I can’t stop thinking about the Oscars. This particular friend had been raped in horrific circumstances a number of years ago and for her, Affleck’s best actor Oscar was not a triumph of skill or ability; it was yet another reminder of how little society seems to care about victims of sexual violence and how few consequences there are for the perpetrators.
I have heard men laugh about Donald Trump’s ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ comments, the term ‘locker talk’ becoming a punch line on drunken nights out, seemingly indifferent to the fact that those comments — and the easy, cavalier dismissal of them — re-traumatised millions of men and women all over the world who are survivors of rape and assault.
Joking about sexual assault and still managing to become the President of the United States of America?
Supposedly sexually harassing women in the work place and going on to win an Academy Award for best actor?
These are perfect examples of rape culture and it isn’t something that can be ignored anymore.
It’s not just politics. It is not just art. This is profoundly personal.
Separating the art from the artist, as Sady Doyle wrote in a piece for Elle magazine, “would be a noble sentiment if we regularly applied it to anyone other than white men... this same pattern of forgiveness and selective blindness is suspiciously absent when it comes to black male artists.
"When the director Nate Parker’s history of sexual assault was revealed last year, his much anticipated film The Birth of a Nation flopped, and Parker himself went from a golden boy to an outcast pretty much overnight.”
Women also struggle to be forgiven for their mistakes in the same way.
Winona Ryder’s career almost imploded over shoplifting, Katherine Heigl found it difficult to get work because of her reputation as being ‘difficult’; why were audiences not encouraged to take art for art’s sake when it was a woman’s livelihood that was at stake?
My fears around Casey Affleck’s win (and, to a larger extent, Donald Trump’s election) are twofold.
I’m worried that it will cause distress to victims of sexual harassment, abuse, or rape; further discouraging them from reporting, due to a sense of futility.
Seeing sexual predators deified in the public eye in this way can only contribute to a victim’s feeling of powerlessness, one which all too often can already seem overwhelming.
I am also deeply concerned about the message that this is sending to our young men. By celebrating Affleck are we inadvertently confirming the idea that a woman’s body is there for male consumption, to be used for his own pleasure and entertainment?
Are young men internalising the belief that if they do sexually harass or assault someone, that not only is it unlikely they will see any consequences, they might in fact be fêted?
So no, I do not think I could go see Manchester By The Sea in good conscience. I will put my money where my mouth is and support movies such as Hidden Figures and Moonlight, movies that celebrate the artistic accomplishments of women and people of colour.
Due to recent upheavals across the world, from Trump to Brexit to the horrors in Syria, I have found it is frighteningly easy to become disillusioned and to believe that the world’s problems are insurmountable.
What difference can one person make, we think to ourselves and yet we do have choices.
It might seem meaningless, given greater societal issues at play, but by refusing to go and see Casey Affleck’s movie, I am making a tiny declaration that I find his alleged behaviour reprehensible and that I refuse to reward him with my time, attention, or most importantly, money.
How powerful would it be to see a movie starring Affleck or Mel Gibson or Johnny Depp or any of the other countless, immensely powerful men accused of heinous crimes against women, fail miserably at the box office due to a conscious boycott?