As accusations against Hollywood predators are emerging faster than Republican senators trying to take away health care from the American public, I’m finding myself in a quandary as a film-lover and scholar.
If we find a director or actor we love to be accused* of sexual misconduct — especially if there is evidence of a pattern of predatory behavior — what should we do in response in regards to that individual’s body of work?
Some options include:
- Boycott all productions by or featuring the individual — past, present, and future.
- Boycott only future productions by or featuring the individual since we now know better.
- Watch work by/featuring the individual only when and if we are sure not to put any money in the individual’s pocket.
- Continue to enjoy work by or featuring that individual because there are others involved who deserve to be seen and heard.
Before making a decision, there is a related matter to consider, however. In reading and listening to others speak about this current moment of raised social awareness and potential revolution in the industry, I have become convinced that in many cases, my interpretation of the film (or TV show, etc.) may change by knowledge of sexual misconduct/crimes. Even in cases in which there was no active assault, such as masturbating in front of a woman without permission, there is emotional violence and abuse. (I recommend Priscilla Frank’s article “Why Men Masturbate in Front of Women Without Their Consent” from HuffPo on this subject.)
For example, all the sexual neurosis and mess in the work of Louis C.K. now signifies very differently to me than it did before. On his show and in his routines, he was working through and acting out behavior he was acting out privately. I cringe thinking about a few episodes of his show that I previously found provocative and problematic in ways that made me think. Now, they’re just displays of his abuses.
And Bill Cosby, though an incredible comedian, was also a haughty preacher about proper behavior for African Americans, and his abuses are ghastly. I can’t watch anything with him in it right now.
While I enjoyed Cosby, especially his stand-up, I was never a big fan of Louis C.K. By contrast, I have truly loved a number of Woody Allen’s films. Sure, I have always cringed at Woody’s films’ gratuitous sexism — but that’s true of Mel Brooks’ films as well, and he seems to have been entirely devoted to his wife (Ann Bankroft) and marriage. Bananas, Sleeper, Midnight in Paris…so many films I’ve watched numerous times. And what the hell do I do about Zelig, one of my favorite films of all time, particularly on issues of (Jewish) assimilation? With Louis C.K., his abuses are so intertwined with his work that I literally don’t think I can watch his shows again. But apart from Woody’s formula of the nebbish (Jewish nerd) getting the hot shiksa (non-Jewish babe), there is little evidence of child abuse or old men marrying teen girls with whom they held the role if not duties of stepfather.
And what if the abuser is dead? Louis B. Mayer, for instance, was a groping, predatory monster, by all accounts. Hitchcock emotionally abused several leading ladies, particularly Tippi Hedron. Errol Flynn was accused of statutory rape of several teenagers, and had an two-year relationship with a girl of 15 before his death at 50.
I went through a version of this quandary when I learned of actors and directors who supported HUAC and its ghastly blacklisting. Russians went from allies in WWII to the Red Scare after (never mind the Nazis working on the Space Program), and the optimism of American communism in its efforts to achieve greater equality became a cudgel to beat people with. I am still furious that careers and lives were ruined, like that of James Garfield. I hate that fellow directors Edward Dmytryk and Frank Tuttle turned in Jules Dassin. And I’m sickened at the misguided patriotism of Barbara Stanwyck and her husband Robert Taylor, who cheered on McCarthy. So did the sickeningly conservative Ginger Rogers.
I have lost my love for Ginger Rogers, finding her hard to watch now. But somehow I still love and watch Stanwyck films and I enjoy Dmytryk’s Crossfire, though it now seems ironic that he directed it.
In short, I know how I feel, but I’m not sure what actions I want to take for myself. I do suffer much anger and frustration as well as more than a little despair for humankind, especially with racist, anti-immigrant, homo-/trans-phobic populism on the rise in America and many other countries worldwide. I’m glad we’ve had the Women’s March and that the #MeToo movement is raising awareness and demanding cultural change. I just need to decide what to throw out with the bath water.
* Unless there is active evidence to argue otherwise, I believe the accuser(s). I do believe in forgiveness, but I don’t believe in helping to keep someone in a position of wealth and power who has in past used that wealth and power to hurt others. YMMV.