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.
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.
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?
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.