It’s been a particularly sobering month for people invested in the entertainment industry. Allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and many others have shocked movie lovers and prompted them to examine the power politics that exist in casting meetings, press tours, and movie sets around the world. We are no longer able to blindly consume movies and television without considering what exactly goes on beneath Tinseltown’s glittery exterior—and, more importantly, how we can work to change it.
As someone who pores over Academy Awards predictions for the better part of each winter, I viewed Harvey Weinstein as one of the most fascinating forces in Hollywood. His notoriously aggressive awards campaigns landed his company a Best Picture nomination nearly every year for the past decade. Some of my favorite films—Carol, Chicago, and Kill Bill, to name a few—were distributed and produced by Weinstein himself. To see a man whose career I venerated, even hoped to emulate one day, be revealed for the monster that he is was terrifying. The responses from women in Hollywood were even more concerning. Dozens of the biggest stars in the world—Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Fonda—all revealed stories of sexual harassment or assault. They seemed shocked at our own amazement, as if to say, Oh, you guys weren’t aware that this happens all the time?
Currently, The Hollywood Reporter’s online homepage is saturated with allegations of sexual misconduct from producers, actors, and directors all throughout Hollywood; it seems as though a forum has finally been opened to expose and punish these men who exploit their industry power in disgusting ways. But this media firestorm forced me to take a step back and think about the world of movies and TV that I love so dearly. How could I still appreciate, and even pursue a career in, an industry where this reprehensible behavior doesn’t simply exist—it appears to be the name of the game? How can I parse my love of movies with this new awareness of the reprehensible activities that can go on behind the scenes?
The news about Kevin Spacey poses an especially complex issue. With a producer like Weinstein, it's easier to watch his movies without really thinking of the man behind the film—out of sight, out of mind. Spacey, though, has a titanic screen presence and has acted in dozens of critically–acclaimed movies and television shows throughout the past few decades. Since Spacey is front and center for us all to see, it becomes a bit more difficult to appreciate his work without conflating it with his life off–screen. When you stare at the face of an alleged assailant for 90 minutes straight, it's tough to separate his talent from his past.
Similarly, some of the best directors of all time, such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, have been accused (and in Polanski’s case, convicted) of sexual abuse. It can feel almost irresponsible to watch and enjoy Allen or Polanski’s work, knowing full well that the vision for these films come straight from the minds of morally–depraved individuals. This phenomenon goes way beyond the past few decades. Judy Garland was notoriously abused on the set of The Wizard of Oz — she stuck to a diet of coffee, chicken soup, and cigarettes, arbiturates and amphetamines to deal with the shooting schedule. Shelley Duvall, the protagonist in The Shining, has described that director Stanley Kubrick was so aggressive and unrelenting during the 13–month shoot that she cried every night from horrific stress, which made her mentally and psychically ill. Does a classic movie hold less value when we know the psychological harm it has caused its actors, or when we know that its director has done horrible things?
No, we can’t just wipe Annie Hall from every “Best Films of the 1970s” list solely because of Woody Allen's controversies. The Academy Awards can’t rescind Kevin Spacey’s two acting Oscars. The Wizard of Oz will always remain an iconic piece of old Hollywood filmmaking. The problem is, once an artist releases their work, it no longer belongs to them. A piece of art takes on a life of its own and retains an individual relationship with each viewer. Unfortunately, Woody Allen’s transgressions don’t make his writing any less witty or insightful. Kevin Spacey’s deplorable behavior (and—might I add—an extremely offensive apology, which essentially conflated homosexuality with pedophilia) doesn’t make his work in American Beauty or Se7en any less nuanced and impressive. The way a film or acting performance makes you feel is a completely private experience that no one can alter or take away—it’s one of the most beautiful properties of the medium.
It feels unfair to every other person who worked on the film—the sound designers, costume designers, cinematographers—to completely discount a movie because of one person’s actions. Perhaps it's best to view a film as a snapshot in time: a singular creation that transcends its own creators and becomes more than just a series of images and performances. To be frank, whether or not we still want to watch someone’s movies isn’t the real issue. Real lives were irrevocably damaged by the actions of these men, and perhaps most terrifying is the fact that many more cases like this certainly exist in Hollywood. It's no coincidence that once one story popped up, a couple more followed, then dozens more after that. Hundreds of people are contending with experiences of mistreatment and abuse in Hollywood, and it’s only a matter of time before even more are exposed. Hollywood is supposed to be a place where people congregate to follow their passions and create beautiful, thought–provoking, awe–inspiring pieces. From here, our job is to provide spaces where people can speak up, so that we can make the industry as safe, collaborative, and positive as I know it can be.