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Yesterday, 2016’s Academy Award winner for Best Actress Brie Larson presented Casey Affleck with the 2017 Best Actor gold statue for his role as the complicated and jaded Lee Chandler in Manchester By the Sea. His performance as the reclusive janitor isn’t to be argued, it was masterfully portrayed. However, his win has been met with controversy given the unresolved swept-under-the-rug allegations in Affleck’s personal life.
In 2010, two women – producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka – working on the set of the film I’m Still Here with the then 35-year-old actor filed two separate lawsuits accusing him of sexual harassment including unwelcome physical advances. One of the women alleged Affleck crept into her bed in the middle of the night and began “caressing her back”. When she awoke, she didn’t know how long he had been there for. Another reported she was “berated and verbally attacked” after declining Affleck’s sexual advances. They both reportedly sued for $2 million and $2.5 million respectively. (Court documents can be found here and here.)
Vehemently denying the allegations, Affleck settled both cases outside of court. To me, a person with a public profile should take the case to court to clear it up for the public and media who will imminently burn him at the stake otherwise. As the case was never tried, we don’t know the ins-and-outs of the story – we may never know the full details – but we definitely do then question why an apparent innocent man had to pay these women. But in doing so, is that enough to make him a guilty man?
You have many opinions. Perhaps Affleck wanted to settle out of court to avoid a trial by media and protect his career. Perhaps he didn’t want to drag his family through the drawn-out legal proceedings. Perhaps he is innocent. But because the details are shrouded in such secrecy, to the none-the-wiser public, Affleck appears he has something to hide. On the flipside, some people may argue the women must be lying to have accepted the money. Unfortunately without knowing the full details, this too is nonsensical. And whichever way the case fell, Affleck’s reputation would/will be tarnished.
But back to the question: Should The Academy award one of their highest honours to someone with a history of sexual assault allegations against him? At this stage, they can because the case has been settled. It doesn’t mean Affleck didn’t do anything. But it also can’t be proven that he did. And while it looks like we’ll forever be in this stalemated limbo stage of did-he-or-didn’t-he, Affleck legally remains a worthy recipient of the award. But even if this notion is by the law, does that make it ethically right?
Should allegations as serious as these be disqualifying until your name is cleared?
And how can the Academy support actors and filmmakers (hello Roman Polanski and Woody Allen) but then take such a massive stand against Donald Trump’s sexual allegations? Hollywood chooses who they turn their blind eye towards, they choose whose crimes they wish to remember.
Yesterday Larson – who played a woman who was repeatedly raped by her kidnapper in Room – refused to applaud Affleck. An advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Larson – who had to present Affleck with a Golden Globe just last month – was obviously disappointed.
And for the ignorant people in the comments sections of many websites who argue “Casey is innocent until proven guilty”, you are feeding the very culture that says society should be conditioned to see sexual assault claims with doubt first and foremost and sympathy only if the accused is proven to be a predator. And I ask you this: If your sister, your girlfriend, your best friend or your mother was to come to you and say someone had taken advantage of her while she was asleep, would you look at her and say “well, he’s innocent until proven otherwise”? This isn’t to say Affleck is “guilty until proven innocent” either, we’re saying there’s not enough information to judge either way because the case was never tried and thus questioning if an actor in this limbo stage should be the recipient of such a huge accolade.
Affleck should come clean and set the record straight for good. He may have been trying to protect his public profile, but he has done it far worse damage by remaining quiet and of course people will speculate. It’s hard to celebrate this man without the clear-cut facts. And in 2017, the public won’t let you off the hook on this one, Casey. And neither will Brie Larson.
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