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.