Yes, you read that title right. From the surface it sounds as if I am excusing actors for their predatory actions, no? Or perhaps it sounds as if I’m saying I don’t believe they should be held responsible for their actions and shouldn’t be condemned for what they did simply because they are famous? That might be the assumption you are making. You might be thinking “who the fuck is this moron?” From the surface I can understand why you would think that and question who I am. It’s a bold statement to make in such tumultuous times. But dig deeper and you will discover who I am. What you don’t know or realize is that these words, that declaration is coming from a sexual assault survivor. I was sexually assaulted at Coney Island on September 5,2015 and I also have an extensive, dark, scary, shrouded trauma history dating back to childhood. I am not a nobody- my eyes are not veiled by ignorance and innocence- I know first hand the effects sexual assault has on a person. I am a fucking warrior who has weathered the storm of abuse and the consequences that follow it. I have stood in the pouring rain, that eventually began to drown me and carried me away into a sea of despair and loss. Seemingly helpless I watched my life fall to pieces right before my (and those who love me) eyes. I have weathered the storm and in the end, (which is my present) I managed to come out on the other side finally. But to come out on the other end of that trauma I had to go through 2 years of abusing alcohol, cutting my skin nightly and complete decimation of any sense of self. It is now on the other end of that darkness that I feel competent enough and have the lived experiences to make the statements I am about to.
All the different parts of my identity—sexual abuse survivor, former cutter, peer counselor, animal lover, pizza fiend and overall human being who has compassion and empathy begin to make up the tattered fabric of who I am as a whole. In addition to these facets of me, I am also an actor and for the purposes of this post, I am going to separate this complicated issue into looking at this from an actors perspective and as a sexual assault survivor.
The reason I am writing this in the first place is because of a recent facebook status I made lauding Casey Affleck for his performance in 2016’s Manchester By The Sea, that I just watched last week. This film garnered him best performance by an actor in a leading role at the oscars, as well as the film winning best original screenplay. I expressed my admiration and shock of his seamless performance of a repressed, struggling, and under the external guise of put-togetherness a truly broken, hurt, vulnerable human. I didn’t expect to be so inspired and taken by his performances, I told the 556 friends on Facebook that I have how much I admired him and was inspired by the subtle complexities of his performance. Within minuets I received a few comments on my status, the first being “didn’t he assault women” in which I *truthfully* admitted I was not aware of. 2 other people chimed in, confirming the allegations made against him. I also had someone, a fellow acting teacher in fact, send me an article via facebook messenger that explained the accusations of sexual harassment made against him, in which this particular person lamented remarking “ Yeah. It’s pretty bad. Disappointing, to say the least” in my response to “oh man, I didn’t know!”
By the time the movie had come out ( now almost 2 years ago) there were allegations against Casey by a few women stating he displayed inappropriate, unwanted sexual harassment, although no formal rape allegations were made. When presenting Affleck with the award at the Oscars, former best actress in a leading role, Brie Larson made it a point to not hug, clap or touch him while presenting him the prestigious and sought after award. In an interview after the show she was quoted saying “I think whatever I did onstage kind of spoke for itself. I’ve said all I need to say about that topic.” The world had its opinion on whether or not he should have won the award given these accounts from women. Twitter blew up from people all over the world reprimanding the Oscar’s for giving him the award. A very outspoken Chrissy Teigen pretended to be asleep on her husband, John Legend’s shoulder while Casey awkwardly accepted the award. Currently, there is uproar about whether or not he should be allowed to attend 2018’s Oscars in which he would present the award of Best actress in a leading role.
Given this new information I felt shame that I had admired him so openly when others had such staunch opinions about him and his actions. I am not blaming those people, or pointing fingers and saying “You made me feel bad about myself, so heres an article! Shame on you!” The reason I write this is because, despite the fact that I know that was not the intention of these people, I still did feel shame, to the point that I felt obligated to delete my status as a whole because I didn’t want it to seem that with the new knowledge of what he had done I was still supporting him-even though I still do.
And that, that right there is the root of the problem in my eyes, or rather my question I pose to you is this: should we disregard, belittle and erase an actors work because of sexual assault or harassment allegations? Do actors like Kevin Spacey or comedians like Louie CK (and the laundry list of other abusers that have been exposed in recent months) deserve to be written off as performers and erode their past work? Or should we just look at their (despicable) behavior and “judge” solely their character and poor choices and dislike them as a human because of said actions and leave the work out of it? Does it make sense to take away the weight of inspiring, moving, heart wrenching performances that these artists were able to conjure because of something disgusting they did that clearly caused their victims discomfort and peril? Do we throw away all the brilliant performances Kevin Spacey (or in this particular case, in relation to me, Casey) demonstrated on film? Don’t get me wrong, a completely separate issue is whether or not they should they work again after their abhorrent actions were brought to light- but that is not what I am here to talk about.
I question whether or not this concept of discounting the totality of their work after their actions surfaced makes sense or is warranted. I will speak solely for myself and this whole “Casey situation.” Personally, I am saddened and disappointed to hear that Casey would sexually harass someone. And I lament the fact that the other victims of other high-profile entertainers lives are ( and forever will) be changed, and they too will experience the lost sense of self and inevitable implosion that happens after someone decides they have agency over your body. For those women, or men- I truly empathize with and stand beside them because to continue in the face of violence takes a strong person- a warrior.With that being said, I do NOT believe his, or anyone else’s performances in films (more specifically this case, Casey in Manchester) should be thrown away into the trash and blacklisted. His talent and what he dug down and into to reveal about the human condition in this movie should be respected and honored. I say judge him for his actions, not his accomplishments as an actor. Hate him, curse him, hell- throw darts at his face on a wall if you want to, but I don’t think his lack of decency should overshadow what he did in that film.
Now! For the flip side of this- the victim viewpoint. What Casey, and every other performer who is being charged with these lurid acts of explicit lack of compassion and sound judgment is disgusting, wrong and unacceptable. I do not condone, support or even bat at eye to knowing what they did to children, men and women is wrong. Their actions are reprehensible and unforgivable. Predators like this are pieces of algae at the bottom of the pond and deserve to be reprimanded for the lives they have ruined. But again, I do not think because of this behavior their talent as a performer should be stripped away.
Now ask me, “Rilen, if your abusers were talented, renowned, powerful actors and inflicted pain and emotional turmoil in your life, would you feel the same? Would you forgive them?” My point is, this is not about forgiveness or even making excuses or excusing behavior. This is not about wiping the slate clean. Keep the slate dirty- pour sulphuric acid and cow shit on it! Simply, I just don’t believe their performances should be disregarded. I was talking to a friend today about this, someone who used to be my teacher about this same topic and they expressed that they had no interest in seeing his films anymore- or at least this one in particular at this point in time. He felt that if Casey atoned for his actions, by first of all apologizing in the first place ( because he has yet to do that. In fact he settled out of court for an “undisclosed amount of money” Aka: “I know I ruined your life but heres some money so be quiet. Go to Fiji, get a tan, drink a mojito. Just keep your mouth shut”) and in addition tried to makeup for what he did by perhaps giving back to the community of sexual assault survivors he would be given some room to redeem himself. It’s funny, I was just reminded of how my late mom refused to see any of Tom Cruise’s films or even interviews ( she would honestly leave the room) after he made a comment directed at Brooke Shields saying that postpartum depression isn’t real. Looking at these two different peoples reactions there is (from what I can gather- I believe this is somewhat wrong, but this is all I can out together) no separation in their eyes between these actors less -than- angelic actions and the validity of their previous and future creative/artistic work.
One final example is when I texted a close friend of mine a few nights ago, who also happens to be an actor. I reached out to them because I was afraid to ask anyone else because of the fear of retaliation and judgment, similar to what I received online from other actors. I knew this person would be open to discussion and not judge or reprimand me for posing this question. I texted them in the same way I did earlier when I began this post. At 3:48 am I said “With all of these sexual assault allegations coming out and such, do you think it should discredit an actors talent or work?…I feel bad for still respecting his (Casey’s) work in this film when those people basically said I was wrong for looking up to him. What do you think? Do you think we should judge actors and eliminate their talent just because of disgusting choices they made in their lives?” His response, 10 whole minutes later, which frankly felt like an hour because this concept was really bugging me was this: “ No, not at all. Bill Cosby was America’s dad. I still have so much respect for him and the amazing things he did. But he raped women, one of whom tried to kill herself. Its fucked up. Does it make the good things he’s done go away? No.” I responded with “ Agree. What they did was wrong. There was a violation. Someone’s life and innocence was ruined. But that does not mean their work should be discredited. Idk man.” He ended with “Exactly, its a beyond tricky topic to talk about. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.” And I quickly followed up with “ I know if I say or make a video or write about this it I’m gonna get scathed.” His response? “Just do it. Up to you.” I replied “We shall see. Could be powerful.” Which brings me to where I am now on Friday December 22, 2017 at 8:23 pm, taking a risk by voicing my opinion by carefully crafting my thoughts (this took 3 hours) on a very controversial, timely topic.
In the end what I am saying is: As a sexual assault survivor, I know first hand that what these people did to others is inexcusable, despicable, dangerous and life-altering, but I am also saying that I don’t believe the work they did should be discredited because of predatory behavior.
if you would like the video version of this is here: https://youtu.be/LfG3oF1bn6s