Every year there is an unsaid trend in film. After the expensive blockbusters entertain in the summer, the temperature drops along with those films vying for the greatest prize: an Academy Award. As a fan of film, I thrive during this recurring pocket of time, privileged to witness hard work pay off beautifully on the screen. Of the films I’ve seen this year, there is one performance that I cannot shake: Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler in Manchester by the Sea.
However, even an Oscar-worthy performance such as Affleck’s isn’t enough to quiet the whispers of controversy. In the wake of Affleck’s Best Actor nomination, actress Constance Wu brought to light two sexual harassment charges against the younger Affleck brother back in 2010. Both of the charges were settled out of court. Wu’s anger about Affleck’s nomination despite the widespread ignorance of these accusations is refreshing in a world where talent so often overshadows character.
Unfortunately, it’s become something of a theme to deem people worthy of success if their talent or zeal outweighs their misgivings. Being a masochistic, racist, classist jerk does not disqualify red carpet status. It seems that Hollywood has joined D.C. in hosting such characters.
This year Affleck has established himself as something more than just the younger brother. His performance in Manchester by the Sea was the best I’ve seen in some time. He’s the scruffy kid from Boston finally out from behind the shadow of his brother; he’s relatable. When we find that someone is likable and has proven their talent, we often find ourselves doing something that the two women harassed by Affleck will never have the luxury of doing: looking past it, forgetting.
On Sunday night, the Academy showed that they were able to look past this hushed transgression when they awarded Affleck with the Oscar for Best Actor. Hollywood raised their glasses to him as he carried his golden man.
The practical voice in my head agrees that the award should be purely merit-based. It’s not about being the best person. If that were the case, then Mel Gibson would not have been up for his third Academy Award.
He did not win for Hacksaw Ridge—a film that undoubtedly proved his caliber as a director—but it was not because of his anti-Semitic rhetoric. His name was not read from the envelope because someone was a better director. As a fan of film, I agree with these standards; I watch the Oscars to see those who gave the best performances win. By this logic, Casey Affleck should have won.
But every other part of my being disagrees with such a notion.
Standards need to be set, examples need to be made, public figures and potential role models need to be held to a certain standard. Although there has never been a windier time to draw a line in the sand, we, as a society, must prioritize justice.
If we want to make a change, we need to stop lauding people of immorality on the public stage. A person’s talent is not enough of a reason to ignore their wrongdoings. Penance should be earned off the stage without any golden statuette.
Because Casey Affleck won the Oscar, he will be remembered more for his two-minute acceptance speech than the many months and years of suffering that his off screen actions have caused for those two women. His name will be written in history and these accusations will likely die down. He’s not alone either. From Roman Polanski to Marlon Brando, celebrities are publicly celebrated despite their disrespect for women and minorities.
Moving past their own wave of controversy, the Oscars aired on Sunday without a hitch—minus a minor snafu that involved a misplaced card and an old pair of eyes. Names were called (some incorrectly), speeches were given, and another page of film history was written. Affleck’s performance was deemed enough to overlook the accusations, establishing the same precedent as was set in November with the election of President Donald Trump. Stunning dresses, hyped-up hosts, and a man with questionable morals accepting an award for the world to see.