On watching movies in the age of #MeToo

So… did you hear the latest news about [insert male celebrity accused of sexual misconduct and just plain awful behavior toward women here]?

The entertainment world continues to be rocked by revelation upon revelation that some of your favorite movies and TV shows are being made by simply the worst human beings. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey, it seems not only that half of the men in Hollywood are poster boys for sexual misconduct, the other half of the men (and some of the women, by some accounts) were covering up for them. Careers are being ruined, many very deservedly, and it’s getting so that you can’t watch a movie without feeling dirty. This whole scandal, though welcome in the sense that it will help lead to positive change within the industry, also ruins a lot of movies through association.

Should it?

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The question above and the following ideas are only half rhetorical. I think most of us always knew about the misogynistic douchebaggery going on in Hollywood, from the casting couch to discrepancies in pay for women actors, but what’s a flyover country boy like me to do? (Technically, I’m a flyover city boy, but considering how my hometown of Milwaukee is portrayed in films—when it’s portrayed at all—it’s clear that Hollywood considers me to be in flyover country.)

Sure, I could vote with my wallet and not watch any of the accused’s movies. But with the extent of the scandals happening, it could end up that I never watch a movie again. For every film ever made, there most likely was some unredeemable asshole deeply involved in its production. But should we boycott their entire body of work? If so, for how long? And does their behavior negate the contributions of everyone else involved in the films they worked on?

I’ve struggled in a similar regard to the music world. A lot of my favorite music was produced or composed by people who did things I find reprehensible, but it hasn’t dampened my enjoyment. A good example: It’s become obvious Justin Bieber is a huge douchebag, and Chris Brown punched and choked his former girlfriend Rihanna. But I never liked their music anyway, so their flagrant assholery was just another reason to not listen. However, I still like a lot of music written and/or produced by Phil Spector, and he straight up murdered someone.

It can be a little awkward watching any of the Naked Gun movies, with OJ Simpson as the lovable side character who’s always getting hurt. But the Naked Gun movies are still funny.

Also, it helps that OJ experiences more punishment in these movies than the legal system ever gave him.

It’s awkward, but I can get over Simpson’s presence in the moment and just enjoy the movie. Am I alone in this?

Really, that’s the question. When does the personal behavior of a creator or author or performer overwhelm a consumer’s ability to enjoy their work? I’ve never cared much for Kevin Spacey. He isn’t a bad actor or anything, but he’s never been my favorite part of any movie he’s been in. And I never could get into House of Cards. And now he’s been fired from the final season of a show where he’s the star.

(The British House of Cards is far superior, for three big reasons. One, it’s British, and is in fact the perfect example of a ’90s British TV miniseries. Two, Ian Richardson, the lead in the British version, has an oily charm that Spacey lacks; I could never see him as a slippery politician. Three, Spacey’s southern accent is so awful and inconsistent as to be distracting; it shifts from scene to scene, making him sound like a judge from the Jim Crow era south and Foghorn Leghorn with a mouth full of marbles and peanut butter within the span of a single episode).

What’s interesting is that both Spacey and Dustin Hoffman have had accusations leveled against them, after which something eerie happened involving both of them. I frequent the website Masterclass, where both Spacey and Hoffman used to have courses on acting. Since the accusations against both men surfaced, their courses have been pulled from the site. No announcement; they’re just gone.

These people should get their comeuppance for their misconduct, and I’m certainly not saying otherwise. Flaming capitalist that I am, I’m okay with people choosing not to do business with someone over a grave moral failing. One must be held accountable, even if one hasn’t done anything technically illegal. So these men losing work and their livelihoods doesn’t bother me. But how do we treat the work they’ve already created? Should I not enjoy The Graduate, or Kramer vs. Kramer? Should I never watch anything produced by Miramax ever again? Is Woody Allen’s entire filmography now without worth?

Okay, maybe sometimes that awkward feeling while watching a movie is completely justified.

I ask these questions because film is a collaborative process. While directors and actors get a lot of attention, there are several hundred other people who work to make a film happen. While I’m comfortable with Harvey Weinstein being out of a job, his efforts at Miramax gave us some of the best cinema of the last 25 years. That cannot be denied.

I wrote this column because I really don’t have an answer and I’m interested in what other people have to say. In some small way, I think it’s a bit funny, because it’s not like we didn’t know that rich and influential people can be dicks and use their status and influence to avoid consequences. But in this age, people are finally willing to hold them to task. But what does that mean for us moviegoers?

I think I have a compromise of sorts, and I’ll bring up my music example again to demonstrate. I think my disdain for Bieber and Brown is only inflamed by the fact that their large personal failings come across in the songs they perform. Justin Bieber wrote a song called “Sorry”, and the first line chastises the listener for not being able to take the Bieb’s honesty. Great humility there, lad. As for Chris Brown, after a compulsory effort at image rehabilitation, he went right back to being the smug, unrepentant jackass he was before.

While Phil Spector killing a woman is a much greater moral failing, and he had a few other sins on his list that I’m not mentioning, it’s not like it came across in his music. He was a technician, and while I don’t condone what he’s done, it’s not like he released a record from prison called “I Fucking Killed Somebody, Now Pay Me”.

To take this to the film world, I could never watch the Jeepers Creepers films all the way through because I was aware that the series’ director, Victor Salva, is a convicted pedophile. And if you watch any of his movies, boy oh boy does knowing that help you to see some subtext in them.

So I turn it over to you, gentle reader. Where is your line? Stanley Kubrick could be a right bastard on set, to the point where he practically tortured an iconic performance out of Shelley Duvall. I can still sit down and watch The Shining without any pangs of conscience. Can you? Can you still enjoy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off knowing that Jeffrey Jones, who played Mr. Rooney, also plead guilty to child pornography charges? If it was revealed that George Lucas held rape parties at the Skywalker Ranch and Kathleen Kennedy hunts orphans for sport, would you burn all your Star Wars stuff and never watch a movie in the series again?

I think I have a pretty healthy separation between the personal lives of artists and the results of their labors. Maybe my approach is wrong, but it’s all I got. I just hope that any positive changes to the industry as a result of these revelations are permanent. Because if they’re not, I might not be able to publish screeds about films on the internet, and instead get a real job. And that just cannot happen.

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  • Mamba

    No issues here…think of it, WELL over half of ANY entertainment venue, be it jock athletes, musicians, or movie stars/producers/directors have been total assholes and selfish abusers of their status. Are we boycotting ALL of them?

    Musicians abuse their groupie fans all the time, and are often total diva’s to the rest of the public. Most Hollywood stars are totally separated from the rest of the world and are SUPER arrogant. I’d be shocked at the ones who DIDN’T try and abuse some lower-person frankly.

    Obviously this doesn’t excuse the behaviour, but it does show that by focusing on the reprehensible crimes of a FEW of them, we’re already blindly turning eyes towards the hundreds of other ones that we just don’t care about. If we boycot them all, movies and music will simple cease to exist. It’s not fair, but what that much money and power on the line, human nature often takes over, and with the removal of social filters that the job entails, it’s likely to continue until the end of time.

    But when I watch a movie I don’t see the actor, I see the ROLE, and that’s all that matters. I wouldn’t want to spend more than 5 minutes in the same room as Tom Cruise, but I like his movies. I DESPISE the sexist attitudes of most rock bands and the way they treat and see women, but I like the music. I detest the WWE’s stars attitudes on most things, but they put on a good show.

    So yeah, they can be separated…as long as you agree that not EVERY action has to be judged right then and there, and that powerful rich people are usually and historically not decent individuals in general.

    • Tyler Peterson

      Well, if the role is all that’s important, then why prefer any actor to any other? Why are individual actors even famous? Why is every role not simply filled on a first come/first served basis?

      I think acting is an art form precisely BECAUSE every actor brings a little bit of their own personality to every role…and yes, their baggage and demons come with it.

      • Mamba

        I agree…but when they take on the role, it’s their SKILL as an actor and any physical attributes that make the role. what they did on their off-hours is irrelevant.

        Kevin Spacey wasn’t an excellent actor BECAUSE he was a sleazebag in his private life, so the private life is not relevant to his performance, nor should we see it. Punish him off-camera for the actions, totally absolutely yes, but to judge the role based on that? Not necessary.

        I don’t see a crazy Scientologist when I watch Tom cruise, i see a talented actor. would he be talented if he was not a crazy Scientologist? Probably…so why link them?

        That’s the point being made.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    I’ve always believed in a fairly firm separation between the artist’s personal life and the artist’s actual work. It’s like all this hullabaloo not long ago about the writer of ‘Ender’s Game’ (whose name is eluding me) being kind of a paranoid, ranting homophobic in real life – sure, I don’t agree with that sort of viewpoint, but so far as I can tell, it never made its way into his books, so what do I care? People are human, and humans are flawed – just because I might not want to hang out with someone in real life doesn’t mean I can’t like their work.

    And also, I should point out that a number of these people have been ACCUSED of bad things – we don’t at this point know whether many of them have actually done them or not, and some of them probably haven’t. A number of them most definitely have, of course, and if even a fraction of the things they’re being accused of are true, then they are scumbags indeed – but ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is still very important here; it is far too easy to tar an innocent man with the same brush as a scoundrel. Take Aziz Ansari, for example – from everything I’ve read about that business, the most he’s probably guilty of is an awkward date with a few mixed messages, and yet he’s still being accused of improper misconduct, and because of that, his career is probably over. Take the outright vile accusations that were leveled against poor Stan Lee (which I’m not going to go into here, because I’d end up ranting for half an hour about them) – can anyone honestly say that THOSE aren’t a steaming pile of horse hockey? There are gradations, is what I’m saying, and just because a witch hunt is kicked off by actual ‘witches’ doesn’t mean it’s not a witch hunt.

    • Deacon Yourmouth

      I agree totally. The court of public opinion sucks. Secrest is now a pariah, and he’s been proven not guilty by an independent investigation.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Exactly – ‘Accusation = Guilty’ is an equation that’s ruined countless lives. I’ve actually run across some persuasive arguments saying that accusations of rape/mistreatment should automatically be dealt with in a closed court sworn to secrecy, because these issues are SO radioactive that even a hint of them in the public eye can permanently derail careers, whether deservedly or not.

        • The_Shadow_Knows

          Secret accusations tried in a “Star Chamber” seem like a cure that’s about a thousand time worse than the disease. And did any of these “persuasive arguments” persuasively argue how this wouldn’t be a violation of the Sixth Amendment (“In ALL criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy AND PUBLIC trial…”)?

          • Deneb T. Hall

            While I see where you’re coming from, I think the wording is important here. ‘The right to’ does not necessarily mean that said publicity should be obligatory – it’s one thing to be publicly cleared of, say, theft, but there are accusations that stain you in the eyes of society, regardless if they’re true or not. Pedophilia, for instance – if you are accused of being a pedophile, there are a lot of people who will automatically assume that you ARE one, regardless of the jury’s decision. True guilt or innocence hardly matters in such a situation; whether or not the system has found you guilty, you will carry the stigma of the accusation for the rest of your life. Rape is another one of those. I think in such situations, at least having the OPTION of a private trial is a good idea.

  • Jonathan Campbell

    Devils Advocate, since I am not boycotting anything and have no plans to, but the other side of the argument is that it might be that the very fact people will watch their movies / listen to their music / cheer them on a sports field etc. is why these celebrities and power-players are able to get away with things for so long. They aren’t going to get in serious trouble because they make money, and its only when the press is brought onto the industries that punishments are doled out. People knew that Harvey Weinstein was an asshole for years, but what brought him down was the threat (and now reality) of Miramax failing because of it; Spacey losing his job and his stature is more of a deterrent to this sort of behaviour than the (potential and perhaps distant) threat of a prison sentence (and they are rich and powerful enough to bury this stuff anyway).

    So, the argument is less about separating the artist from their work for emotional reasons, more about punishment and deterrence. The Spaceys and Weinsteins and others of the world feel comfortable with what they do precisely because they know that people will watch and enjoy their stuff anyway, and others turn a blind eye or go along with it because they know it too.

    I think thats a simplistic narrative, since there are other factors at work here and costs to consider, but that is at the very least part of the issue, the fact that they get praised and make money leading others to conclude “well, they might be assholes, but they must be doing SOMETHING right so we’ll just have to put up with it”.

  • Greenhornet

    It’s easy for me, it’s a rare event for me to go to a movie these days and I used to WALK miles to see a movie! The problem for me is that I can’t find anything worth watching; “message” films, endless re-makes, “splatter” movies, stupid crime victims and characters who are unlikeable and outright insulting are not worth paying for.

    As for “Jeepers Creepers”, I could never get past the idea that a mythical monster that appears every few decades would have a VANITY PLATE.

  • Kradeiz

    I think whether a person consumes media made by “questionable” people is up to their individual tastes and beliefs. Me personally, I try to avoid things like that, but like you said, it can be pretty much impossible to do so with the sheer amount of work a single person can be involved in.

    For instance, it’s much easier for me to never watch anything with Woody Allen in it, but much harder to do so with anything Harvey Weinstein produced. Case in point, I recently rewatched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and felt a little wave of disgust when one of the first ending credits read ‘Produced by Harvey Weinstein.’ I still plan to rewatch LOTR in the future, and it’s not something that hampers my enjoyment of the series, but I can’t forget it either.

    That being said, I do think there’s a big difference between people who consume media while recognizing the awful practices of those in the industry and wanting to improve it, and those who think it isn’t a problem at all.

    • Greenhornet

      Glad you brought up Weinstein in the credits. Remember when some people said his name should be removed from movie credits? This is almost as objectionable as his crimes and smacks of communist “erasing” a person.

      • Kradeiz

        Honestly, I don’t see what removing a person’s name from the credits would really accomplish. It may be a slap in the face but it’s not much of a deterrent and doesn’t change the fact that that person was involved with the making of that movie. I’ll settle for holding these people accountable and bringing them up on appropriate charges; that to me seems like a better use of time to promote change.

        • mamba

          To me, removing his name only hides him and makes us forget about him.

          They want to bury and forget their criminals, not prosecute them.

          For that alone, let the name ring forth…and have shame attached to it forever. But he won’t lose any sleep over the removal I assure you.

          • Greenhornet

            I agree with the above posts.