Award Ethics: Hollywood’s Casey Affleck-Nate Parker Controversy Is Ethically Simple, But Then, Hollywood Doesn’t Have Ethics

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock (7734778do) Casey Affleck - Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama - Manchester By The Sea 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - 08 Jan 2017

There were several possible Ethics Alarms posts that could have come out of The Golden Globe Awards last night, the obvious one involving the continuing arts community tantrum in the wake of the election of Donald Trump over Hollywood’s sweetheart, Hillary Clinton. Meryl Streep put herself in the running for “Gratuitous Cheap Shot Of The Year ” with her acceptance speech for something or other, but I decided that in a community where Rosie O’Donnell tweets “Fuck you!” to the Speaker of the House for simply completing his duty to certify the Electoral College vote, and over the weekend tweeted, “HE MUST NEVER BE SWORN IN – DELAY INAGURATION – INVESTIGATE – ARREST HIM” as her considered analysis of the proper workings of our democracy, Streep’s shot seemed like the height of restraint.

The more interesting issue on display at the Golden Globes  involves actor Casey Affleck, Batman’s brother, who won the night’s Best Actor in a Film Drama award for his performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” Last year, it was revealed that the actor had two sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him in 2010 that alleged he had groped women on the set and created a generally hostile work environment while directing the film, “I’m Still Here.” Since during the campaign Hollywood was all-in using misogyny and sexual  harassment as one of the many accusations against Donald Trump, some claim that honoring Affleck undermines the community’s assumed condemnation of the Trump-like conduct he was accused of.

Complicating the matter is the conundrum surrounding Nate Parker, the previously unknown black artist who was the main creative force behind the 2016 slave-revolt film “The Birth of a Nation.”  As Oscar buzz was ramping up for his film—remember that the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences is more or less obligated to find plenty of nominations and awards for African Americans, regardless of objective artistic merit—  new details surfaced concerning a decades old criminal case in which Parker was accused of raping a female student while both were at Penn State.  He was acquitted,  but the facts were ugly, and the alleged victim committed suicide. Once that was known, all of the promise shown by “The Birth of a Nation” evaporated. Although the film was a smash at festivals, it received mixed reviews,bombed at the box office, and has been poison at the various awards so far, receiving no nominations.

The New York Times, among other media sources, has published several articles about the apparent double standard, saying most recently,

In heated conversations in Hollywood in recent weeks, prompted by articles on websites like The Daily Beast, Mic and ThinkProgress, producers, publicists, studio executives and other movie insiders have been grappling with whether there is a double standard at play — involving race, power or both — in the treatment of Nate Parker, a relatively unknown artist who has been sidelined as an Academy Award candidate, and Casey Affleck, the brother of moviedom royalty who is being feted as the leading contender for best actor…

Why do the two men find themselves in much different circumstances?

Perhaps people think Mr. Affleck’s performance, and the movie in which he stars, is better. Maybe it’s because, as an Oscar nominee and the brother of the box-office star Ben Affleck, Mr. Affleck has attained a privileged status in Hollywood; the power surrounding him may make people reluctant to openly criticize him. Certainly a factor is the fact that there was unsettling new information revealed about Mr. Parker’s rape case in August — that his accuser later committed suicide — while there have been no new disclosures regarding Mr. Affleck’s cases.

Or maybe, say those mindful of Hollywood’s checkered racial history, it is because Mr. Affleck is white and Mr. Parker is black.

There is certainly a demonstrable double standard: Hollywood  has nurtured a culture of sexual harassment and quid pro quo sex, as in the infamous “casting couch,”  since the first camera rolled. A list of Hollywood icons, dead, alive or still active, who engaged in what both Affleck and Parker were only accused of—and worse (Hi there, Woody Allen! Cheers, Roman Polanski!)—is long and horrifying. Why is the issue even being raised?

Hollywood is a place where Clinton—and Trump—sexual ethics rule. “It’s just sex,” as all of Bill’s Tinsel Town supporters explained when Monica Madness threatened the First and Only President Clinton. Hollywood doesn’t care about sexual harassment, or sexual assault, if the assailants are stars, directors or producers..Honoring Affleck “undermines the community’s assumed condemnation of the conduct he was accused of”? What assumed condemnation? Official, phony condemnation is more like it. This is a community that expresses horror at Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comments, but it is also Pussy Grabbing Central.

Of course, the reason there is a controversy is race. The race card beats everything, especially sexual misconduct. Parker’s film’s failure to garner awards is being used to continue the assault against Hollywood’s alleged racial bias. Maybe the claims that Affleck avoided the stain of his sex-related legal troubles while Parker did not will tilt the scales a bit in favor of other black artists at the Oscars.

Ethically, the issue is simple. It doesn’t matter what either artist did or how long ago he did it, as long as it didn’t affect the artistic product. It matters that Hollywood continues to enable and reward sexual harassers and predators, but that has nothing to do with artistic awards. None of the awards are character honors. They recognize excellent art, not excellent people. Harassers, predators, rapists, traitors and cannibals should all be honored on the basis of what they present to the public, and their misconduct or crimes should be treated in the context of professional discipline and the legal system.

Affleck is getting awards because the community has determined that he did a better job acting in his movie than Parker did making his. Are all sorts of biases involved in polluting that verdict? Of course, but bias is inextricable from popularity and publicity exercises like The Golden Globes, and Hollywood doesn’t do integrity. Let’s see: Affleck is an established actor, and Parker is an outsider; Afflect has won awards before; Casey’s brother Ben is an industry power-broker, even Hollywood likes rape less than sexual harassment; Affleck’s film was a success, Nate Parker’s wasn’t; the fact that Parker’s film had a plot element including sexual assault made his personal history icky; and yes, Parker is black.

Those trying to isolate that single factor from the rest are engaging in intellectually dishonest political maneuvering, and that’s all they are doing.


Sources: The Atlantic; New York Times

17 thoughts on “Award Ethics: Hollywood’s Casey Affleck-Nate Parker Controversy Is Ethically Simple, But Then, Hollywood Doesn’t Have Ethics

  1. It amuses me when Hollywood shows their collective logical and ethical bankruptcy like this. What’s interesting is that they won’t even trouble themselves to think about the possible double-standard. They’re not even aware that they might need to examine their ethics. As far as their concerned, their social justice positions make them immune to double standards as long as they properly genuflect to the racial and sexual identity gods.

    It must be nice to live in such an unassailable ivory tower of self-delusion. Making the world go away at need must be effortless for them.

    • I don’t think it’s logical or ethical bankruptcy, I just think they’re shallow thinkers and in a very… very small bubble. It’s like when Ben Affleck called Sam Harris “racist and gross” on Bill Maher’s show… I think that these people really do believe that they’re sticking up for the little guy, but they only think that way because they haven’t put much thought into the topic, and the people they hang out with generally think like they do.

      This is why I’m always mindblown when people think anything a celebrity says or does is particularly insightful or profound in any way other than seeing a particularly intelligent dog ride a skateboard: What hasn’t been scripted for them is often just gibberish.

      • I don’t think it’s logical or ethical bankruptcy, I just think they’re shallow thinkers and in a very… very small bubble.

        Well, perhaps I’m giving them too much credit, then. I’d assumed people of normal intelligence and intellectual curiosity, given that they’re willing to expound on all manner of complex issues.

        Perhaps that’s unwarranted, if you’re right.

  2. Let’s make this one really interesting and pretend it’s a three-way (artistically) between Affleck, Parker, and Bill Cosby. Do the same rules still apply, or is Cosby in a league of his own when it comes to alleged sexual misconduct in Hollywood?

  3. I think my one thing to that is I always feel that art relates to the character of the artist. So character is taken into account with art.

    Take what happens with paintings. A painting could sit on the wall, people look at it and say it’s nice and value it at a few hundred dollars. If that painting is discovered to have actually been painted by Picasso, Monet, etc. It will suddenly be worth millions. It’s the same painting! Nothing about it has changed, except the character of the artist who created it.

    Not that we ever expect Hollywood to really be about character. It’s about popularity, favorites, and the running ideal of the time.

  4. This is a community that expresses horror at Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comments, but it is also Pussy Grabbing Central.

  5. The best line in the Get Smart Movie is Siegfried’s statement when his henchman complains that detonating an atomic bomb in Hollywood will kill a lot of actors: “What WILL we do without their incite-full political commentary”.

    Readers Digest publishes a ranked annual list of the 100 most trusted people. I have no idea how they come up with this list or why twenty five of the top fifty are professional liars! Let’s face it, some of them very professional Liars!

  6. Despite what the critics write, “Manchester By The Sea” is a dreary, uninteresting movie I was unfortunate enough to see. As far as Affleck and the sexual harrassment allegations not much that goes in in hypocritical Hollywood would surprise me.

  7. (1) Overall, the most interesting/horrifying part of your post are Rosie O’Dopnnell’s tweets. (2) They demonstrate in the clearest possible way the arrogance of the Hollywood “bubble.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so damaging. (3) These are people who would like to be seen as liberal, and “seen” is the operative word here: they will never be touched economically by anything but their “star quotients,” so they can afford to be ideologues, purposefully misinformed, and hateful. So the constant question — Who do they think they are? — is asked and answered. (4) We know who they think they are, and I know what I think of them. The only way to stop them — or try to — is to… not… put… another… dime… into their pocketbooks. Pick your targets and then boycott their movies. Tell your friends to do the same. The only thing anyone do to these blots on the landscape is hit them where it hurts — their wallets.

    • P.S. Ever wonder why the most outspoken liberals are those with the most money? Never affected by economic policies and trends, they can freely espouse liberalism, socialism, etc. These are the people who are certain they would have had their dachas in the old Soviet Union.

  8. There is one other big difference between Nate Parker and Casey Affleck:
    Nate Parker (and his friend) were accused of rape, and Parker’s friend was actually convicted of the crime (until it was overturned). Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment. Both are forms of sexual misconduct, but one is much worse than the other.

    It’s like saying apples and watermelon are fruit, but one is much more difficult to ignore when it’s on the kitchen counter.

    The fact is, Casey Affleck’s misconduct was, to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, in the normal range of misconduct for Hollywood. Parker’s, on the other hand, was orders of magnitude worse.

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