Casey Affleck won an Oscar last night for his lead role in Manchester By The Sea, and I’m still speechless.
Not because he beat out Denzel Washington and the bevy of other deserving, celebrated, actors, but because his win legitimizes toxic masculinity and White privilege; further proving the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can only focus on undoing one layer of disenfranchisement at a time.
For the past two years, critics have challenged the organization to celebrate diversity in its selection of nominees through #OscarsSoWhite. But there’s a fundamental issue at play when someone accused of sexual harassment wins the most coveted award. Maybe social media users should consider another hashtag: #OscarsSoExcusingOfRapeCulture.
I’ll try to sum up my complaint through the prism of the allegations against Affleck as quickly and efficiently as possible: While filming the movie I’m Still Here, producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka accused Affleck of sexual assault and eventually filed lawsuits against him in 2010.
White accused Affleck of discussing sexual exploits on set and said Affleck encouraged a colleague to reveal his genitals to her. She claims Affleck proposed the two stay the night in a hotel and when she refused, Affleck became irate and “grabbed her in a hostile manner,” reports New York Magazine, which obtained both complaints filed by White and Gorka.
After a long night of filming, Gorka said Affleck allowed the crew to retire to his apartment, the report says. In her lawsuit, she claims Affleck offered his bedroom to her while he planned to sleep on the couch. She claims she woke to find him cradling her with nothing on but a t-shirt and underwear, and also noticed alcohol on his breath. When she asked him to leave, he became upset and aggressively approached her about their encounter in the weeks following, the report says.
Both women settled out of court with Affleck for an unspecified amount, notes the report. Affleck, who directed the film, initially threatened to counter sue.
Where’s the widespread outcry regarding Affleck’s alleged past? Journalists and celebrities alike have likely avoided the convoluted story out of fear of losing access to the actor’s very famous brother, Ben Affleck, and his brother’s equally famous friend, Matt Damon.
Since their 1998 Oscar win for Good Will Hunting, the two have engaged in a very public bromance and engaged in several business endeavors, including their production company LivePlanet and “Project Greenlight,” which affords first-time filmmakers the opportunity to direct.
Damon, who produced Manchester By The Sea, backed out of the lead role due to scheduling conflicts, paving the way for Affleck, Variety reports.
“Fresh off the Boat” actress Candace Wu tackled the matter head on in a tweet after Affleck was nominated. Later, Wu explained that industry insiders advised her to steer clear of the issue for the sake of her career.
But there’s no doubt that the allegations against Affleck were not as widely circulated as those against Nate Parker upon the release of his 2016 movie, Birth of A Nation.
Parker was acquitted in a 2001 trial, notes People magazine, after an 18-year-old female classmate at Penn State University accused him and his Birth of Nation collaborator and friend, Jean Celestin, of sexual assault in 1999.
And although Parker was acquitted, he and his movie were wiped from discussions about Oscar glory. Is that fair? To be clear, by no means do I condone Parker’s alleged actions, but the juxtaposition of the cases smacks of bias and racial inequity.
To be sure, everyone who owned a laptop or smart phone, including Parker’s co-star Gabrielle Union, weighed in on the case. Union’s character in the movie experiences a brutal rape and utters not one word in the whole film, which brought forth a barrage of think pieces focused on Parker’s view of women, silencing victims of rape and the Black body.
The Black body is constantly vilified under the White gaze. The idea of the Black male brute, the erotic value of Black women and the false narrative that Black people exhibit hypesexuality is a constant narrative in U.S. and world history. Perhaps that is why it is easier for the mainstream media to assign these characteristics whenever a person of color is accused of assault, or sexual harassment.
Indeed, Affleck’s win further demonstrates unprecedented access to wealth, and the shroud of privilege, shields you from the dark parts of your past which bubble up to the light.