Why are we picking and choosing which Hollywood abusers we shame?

Joanna Freedman /
Nov 20, 2017 / Opinion

Well, the news has been an absolute shitstorm over the last few weeks, hasn’t it?

Harvey Weinstein doing his business in a plant pot seems to have opened up an endless chasm of abuse allegations, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to slow down any time soon. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Ed Westwick. Terry Richardson: the list could – and almost definitely will – go on. The #metoo movement has peeled back society like one big, disgusting onion and with every layer, it becomes a little more evident how much you can get away with if you’re a powerful man.

Since these allegations have come to light, it’s clear that the world – in part, at least – is finally beginning to put its foot down when it comes to this kind of repulsive behaviour. Both House of Cards and Ed Westwick’s sitcom, White Gold, have halted filming pending respective investigations, Louis C.K.’s latest film premiere was cancelled due to his self-confessed inability to keep his dick in his pants, while Terry Richardson’s finally been banned from working with Conde Nast on any future shoots. Elsewhere, in an unprecedented move, Kevin Spacey has been entirely edited out of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, replaced by Christopher Plummer only matter of months before the film is to be released.

And that’s great, really it is. However, the problem is this: there’s countless – countless – other famously abusive men whose shortcomings we’re simply choosing to sweep under the carpet, just because they haven’t come in the middle of such a massive international awakening; or, worse, because on the scale of bad to really fucking bad, their abuse doesn’t quite seem to be horrific enough to qualify as a career-ender.

Take two films currently showing in UK cinemas, Daddy’s Home 2 and Murder on the Orient Express. Both are massive blockbusters, made big bucks on their opening night, and both star well-known domestic abusers. In the former, there’s Mel Gibson, who, in 2011, quite literally told his ex wife she looked like a “pig in heat”, adding that if she got “raped by a pack of n*****s”, it would be her own fault. Before that, his reputation had long preceded him. But never mind, said Hollywood producers, “let’s give him a starring role in a feel-good family film that’s set to make £30 million on its opening night.”

And then, in Agatha Christie’s legendary Murder on the Orient Express, there’s Johnny Depp, who’s somehow managed to avoid all accountability for abusing his ex wife, Amber Heard, despite the fact it happened not much over a year ago. At the film’s premiere, adoring fans screamed his name as he walked into the Royal Albert Hall in a blaze of glory, linking arms with Dame Judi Dench. Hardly the reception you’d expect for somebody who’s been caught on video angrily throwing a glass at his ex wife, and who provably ordered his assistant to apologise on his behalf for kicking her violently.

Of course, Depp and Gibson are just two examples, but the list is exhaustive. Go on Netflix right now and there’s Chris Brown’s documentary – in which he is described as a “controversial pop sensation” and talks about violently beating Rihanna – is promoted in the ‘new releases’ section. Ben Affleck is starring in Justice League, despite that video of him groping Hilarie Burton in 2003, and his brother Casey won an Oscar earlier this year, after paying off two women that accused him of abuse in 2010. Oh, and then there’s the President of the United States, who was literally caught on tape talking about grabbing women by the pussy. He still got elected into the White House.

I could continue, but the point is this: the abusive behaviour of all of these men isn’t up for debate – it’s publically on record for anyone who wants to see it. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We just don’t want to. A large proportion of society would rather just ignore it.

No doubt, you will have seen the promotional pictures for the new Fantastic Beasts film The Crimes of Grindelwald. If it wasn’t controversial enough that Depp was cast in the first film during the height of Heard’s abuse allegations against him, he’s only gone and landed the starring, titular role in the second. This is what happens when you overlook the wrongdoings of powerful men. J.K. Rowling was one of many celebrities to publicly defend the actor, saying: “What you have to remember about Johnny is that extraordinary talent and that talent never goes away. Hollywood is such a fickle place. People go up and go down.”

But, J.K. Rowling is wrong. “Extraordinary talent” doesn’t mean we should just ignore somebody’s dreadful behaviour. If some people are simply allowed back into the public’s favour because of the quality of their ‘art’, then what does that say to Weinstein and Spacey, who are probably sunning themselves by a pool in their luxury rehab facility as we speak, waiting for all of this to blow over?

People were rightly outraged on Tuesday, when the BBC claimed in a headline that actor Bryan Cranston believed there could be a “return” for Weinstein and Spacey. What he actually said was that “it would be up to us to determine case by case whether or not this person deserves a second chance,” based on how repentant they were, and the severity of their abuse. However, the public outcry at the assertion that there’s somehow a way back for these men does beg the question, ‘why are we not more appalled about all the other scumbags who have managed to carry on working?’

And I know what you’re going to say: Spacey, Weinstein – they’re prolific offenders. They both used their power and influence to repeatedly sexually harass and assault people, be it aspiring actresses or young, impressionable men. But, by saying that some public figures should be ‘let off’ because their horrific abuse wasn’t quite as bad as the worst men in the business, we’re basically measuring victims’ mistreatment and pitting abusive acts against each other, when we should just be saying: “No. That’s it. There’s no room for people like you in the industry.”

That’s not to say things are all bad. The #metoo hashtag has been used 1.7 million times and counting on Twitter, and if that’s not a sign of changing attitudes, then I don’t know what is. People are sharing stories of anything from inappropriate, overly suggestive language to full on sexual abuse and rape, and perhaps the one good thing to come from the Weinstein scandal is that as a society we’re realising we don’t just have to brush off abuse as ‘one of those things’.

As awful as it sounds, maybe it was easier to ignore abuse allegations aimed at our favourite stars when society looked at misogyny and male dominance as part and parcel of everyday life, but in the wake of all the progress that’s been made recently, surely it’s time to reflect?

We can’t decide who’s cast in the biggest films, or given a Netflix deal, but we can use this momentum for change when doing small things like choosing what films we watch, what music we listen to, and who we continue to support. As J. K. Rowling said herself, Hollywood is a “fickle place” – so in a time where speaking out against abusers is the new normal, why don’t we celebrate female talent, and men who don’t have abusive records?

Who knows, they might even listen to us.

Join our club.

Words by Joanna Freedman

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