Complaining about abusers at the Oscars won’t change anything [Opinion]

oscars academy awards season paul hudson flickr

I don’t remember a time the distinction between art and artist wasn’t being argued. It’s a debate that seemingly has no end and it’s not because there’s no right answer. It’s because the ones with the power to end it don’t seem to care. The battle is one of ethics vs industry, and when it comes to money, industry always wins out.

And this issue is all about money.

Year after year, the Oscars honours artists who have been accused (and sometimes convicted) of heinous crimes. Woody Allen is a famous example. Even after being accused of sexually abusing his adoptive daughter (and subsequently marrying his stepdaughter), Allen’s career has thrived. He has written a film every year since 1987, and won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes in 2014.

This year’s culprits are Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck.

Gibson, nominated for his film Hacksaw Ridge, confessed to assaulting his former girlfriend in 2010. A recording of a phone call he’d had with her revealed him threatening her, stating that if she “was raped by a pack of n****rs, [she] would be to blame.”

Affleck has had two women with whom he has worked accuse him of sexual harassment. They both sued him, and the cases were settled out of court. He is nominated for best actor this year for his work in Manchester by the Sea.

And so the question posed is this: should the Academy (and potential viewers) be rewarding bad men even though they have made good things?

The easy answer is yes. We cannot blame a child for a parent’s misgivings. The art is a separate entity and deserves to be treated as such. Making a film requires a massive team, and by sidelining the whole film because of something one team member has done seems unfair to the rest.

Should the Academy (and potential viewers) be rewarding bad men even though they have made good things?

But the right answer is no. And the reason it isn’t easy is because it implicates us, casual moviegoers, in the ethical dilemma. It’s easy to tell yourself that liking Manchester by the Sea doesn’t mean liking Casey Affleck. But the truth is that when you buy a ticket to see a film, your money is your vote — and your vote is saying that you are willing to overlook the fact that the producers of the film have financially supported heinous people.

When you overlook a violent crime, and give the perpetrator your money, you make it clear that art is more important than people — that a two-hour long film matters more than a lifetime of trauma. You tell the abuser that even after hurting someone, he will be safe.

It’s why people don’t eat meat, it’s why people don’t buy Nike. It’s why people shouldn’t pay money to see a film made by an abuser. And it’s why the Academy needs to stop telling the film industry that they will support the continued hiring of abusers and assaulters.

When an actor wins an Oscar, his salary increases by 81%. Just a best picture nomination is enough to boost ticket sales, and winners often earn around US$13.8-million more than their nominated counterparts.

And this is where the argument comes to a head. Ethics can only do so much. The media can post the same article every February until the cows come home, but nothing will happen until there is a dramatic industry shift in the way it glorifies racists, rapists and women beaters.

Because it doesn’t matter how long we drag these men’s names through the mud, they’re going to keep living lavish lives until the industry decides it values humans over pretty films about sad white men.

Until that happens, we as the media can stop uncritically reviewing and discussing these films. And we as people can stop spending our hard-earned money on filmmakers who do not deserve it.

Feature image: Paul Hudson via Flickr (CC 2.0, resized)



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