Last night Casey Affleck won the Best Actor, Drama Golden Globe award for Manchester By the Sea.
During two pre-Golden Globes parties over weekend, I asked several connected media types about what may have been called the “Casey Affleck hoo-hah” during the fall but which is increasingly being regarded as the “Casey Affleck so-whatter”. They all shrugged their shoulders and said, “meh…not happening.”
They were referring to a pair of settled-and-done sexual harassment lawsuits that Affleck was hit with six years ago. They were filed by producer Amanda White and director of photography Magdalena Gorka, both of whom alleged they were forced to cope with unwanted sexual attention from Affleck during the making of I’m Still Here, a kind of mockumentary starring Joaquin Phoenix which Affleck directed.
The lawsuits were deep-sixed when Affleck agreed to cough up an undisclosed sum. That didn’t mean he was guilty of anything; it meant that he’d decided that paying the women off would be the fastest, least problematic resolution.
There’s a big difference between alleged sexual harassment (i.e. acting in a creepy fashion) and sexual assault, which is a whole other thing. And what may or may not have happened just isn’t dark or heavy enough, everyone is now saying.
Affleck was never charged with anything criminal, and no prosecutor even flirted with doing so. What Affleck may or may not have done wasn’t cool, but it wasn’t anything especially cruel or odious either. It was just bad form.
“If boorish behavior is going to used to beat someone with a stick and possibly threaten their career, an awful lot of people in this town would be vulnerable,” a Los Angeles-based reporter and interviewer told me yesterday.
So we are left with a would-be scandal that’s been ready to ignite for a couple of months now but has stubbornly refused to do so. Affleck’s performance as a grief-struck widower and handyman in Manchester By The Sea is going to win the Best Actor Oscar—signed, sealed, delivered.
Given that the town is 110 percent convinced that Affleck has it in the bag, nobody wants to mess with a winner. That’s just basic human nature. And I mean especially if the winner’s older brother is Ben “Batfleck” Affleck and a childhood Boston buddy and ally is Manchester producer Matt Damon.
Plus nobody wants to mess with Roadside Attractions, which is theatrically distributing Manchester, not to mention the formidable Amazon Studios, which bought distribution rights for Manchester not long after its thunderous Sundance debut. Nor do they want to ruffle the feathers of ID-PR’s Mara Buxbaum, a well-connected publicist who has been rigorously working on the film’s behalf.
Forget it, forget it….nobody wants to touch it.
There have been five journalistic attempts to re-light the fuse on the Affleck matter, but none have panned out. They didn’t even strike a match that might have been used to light the fuse.
In September, Mashable‘s Josh Dickey attempted to equate Affleck’s behavior with that of Nate Parker, the director and co-writer of The Birth of a Nation whose career took a huge hit when it was revealed that he and a companion were prosecuted for rape while attending Penn State University in 1999. The analogy wasn’t effective, and no one bit.
(Parker was acquitted but the news that the victim in the case had committed suicide several years later cast a pall over Parker’s career and pretty much terminated the awards campaign for The Birth of a Nation.)
Six weeks later, in October, Mic.com’s Kevin O’Keefe tried to float the same thesis. “The difference in treatment” between what Affleck encountered and what happened to Parker “almost certainly isn’t a coincidence,” O’Keefe wrote, “and it’s absolutely worth talking about.” But nobody did.
Roughly a month later Amy Zimmerman wrote an accusatory Daily Beast piece (which received some twitter support from her colleague Jen Yamato) and again, the story didn’t ignite.
Granted, posting a controversial article of this type just as a Thanksgiving weekend is about to begin was probably doomed to sputter out, but the bottom line is that Zimmerman and Yamato gave it the old college try and it didn’t fly…period.
Two days after the Daily Beast piece appeared, a Texas-based film critic colleague wrote to observe that “the takedown has begun.” I told him it was more or less a misguided attempt by a young journalist looking to make a name for herself, perhaps partly due to spiritual ties with a loosely affiliated group of social-justice femme-Nazis, but was overlooking the likelihood that while the 2010 civil lawsuit alluded to unfortunate behavior, it probably wasn’t all that bestial in hindsight.
“You may think this,” my friend the critic replied, “and I may think this. But that doesn’t matter. We live in an age when the pendulum is swinging the other way.”
A couple of weeks passed and still nothing. But who knew? On December 7, I wrote the following to Yamato (whom I know personally): “If and when your ‘stop Casey Affleck campaign’ is successful, and by that I mean if, say, Denzel Washington wins Best Actor for Fences instead of Casey because of the 2010 sexual harassment business, which could nudge weak-willed voters away, would you be open to an interview about how you and Amy Zimmerman decided that Affleck could be stopped, and that you were the guys to do it?”
I didn’t think Yamato would reply (she didn’t) but if Affleck went down I figured she and Zimmerman might want to take a bow after the February Oscar telecast.
Then came the Big Kahuna of possible Affleck derailment stories—a Brooks Barnes piece in the New York Times on January 4 that tried to once again examine similarities between the Affleck and Parker cases (“The Glare Varies for Two Actors on Hollywood’s Awards Trail”). Again, the response seemed to be that Affleck and Parker’s situations were markedly different (one involving alleged assault and quite toxic, the other not even in the same ballpark).
The lack of interest in Barnes’ piece was alluded to in a subsequent article by the Guardian‘s Rory Carroll, another attempt (in part) to bring up the Nate Parker parallels, but which also seemed to signal surrender with this headline: “Sexual Harassment Claims Could Have Sunk Casey Affleck. Instead, He Soared.”
Carroll’s piece ended with a quote from yours truly: “It’s not decent to try make a thing about this given the two women involved took the money and went away, so to speak. I mean, its over. The charges they raised weren’t even close to approaching the Woody Allen allegations, or [the ones against Roman] Polanski. It seems to boil down to a**hole-ish behavior. So what?”
As a Hollywood Elsewhere commenter wrote in late November: “Most of us are subjective when it comes to overlooking bad behavior of those actors or musicians whose work we love or have a personal attachment to.
“I may have a tough time seeing Affleck as a sympathetic character in a film because he always came across as d***ish to me, but we choose individually. The other side of the coin is that we live in a climate where the internet crusaders—the Jezebel-ers, Twitter Nazis and the Church Ladies with their wagging fingers—will distort the lines between the public persona and the private. Calling out bad behavior is not a bad thing, but it can also become dangerous. Anybody can pick up a pitchfork and get ugly with enough moral indignation.
“The history of Hollywood and rock and roll, art and sports for that matter, is littered with flawed but talented people but today is different. There has to be some compartmentalization or you’re going to miss great art and great performances. “
Jeffrey Wells writes the Hollywood Elsewhere blog