Monday, December 19, 2016
When We Can Separate The Art From The Artist: Examining The Cases Of Nate Parker And Casey Affleck
As Casey Affleck starts picking up accolades for his critically acclaimed performance in Manchester By The Sea, having won the Critics Choice and been nominated for a Golden Globe, that has also led to controversy. Recently, Nate Parker who did Birth Of A Nation was scrutinized for a 1999 gang rape trial he was acquitted of while Casey Affleck had settled two sexual harassment lawsuits back in 2010. So this has people on the Internet wondering why Affleck is being celebrated while Parker is getting crucified.
While race and privilege are likely factors in play, there are other factors in play as well. Now before I go any further, I'll just say that I'm not defending either of these men. I'm only attempting to give an analysis of the situation at hand. Now admittedly, I did pay to see Manchester By The Sea while I skipped Birth Of A Nation. But that was mainly because I didn't have much of a desire to see Birth Of A Nation. The case involving Parker was also a factor to me not seeing it but it was mainly a factor due to Parker being unsympathetic on his press tour. While I did say I would boycott the film back in August, I then realized that I didn't have a burning desire to see the film in the first place.
When Parker gave an interview with Deadline back in August where he discussed the rape trial, that is when the backlash started. It was also later revealed that the woman he raped had committed suicide. Yet in that aforementioned Deadline interview, he talked about how it was one of the most painful moments of his life, painting himself as the victim. But when it came closer to the film's release and Parker started doing interviews with Anderson Cooper and Robin Roberts, he was very unapologetic about his wrongdoings. Apparently, distributor Fox Searchlight tried putting Parker through PR training, even attempting to give him consulting from Oprah of all people. Yet he kept going off script. So because of how unwilling Parker was to own up to his mistakes and play ball, he ended up shooting himself in the foot, his movie in the foot, and I think his management team in the foot.
Another reason Parker is getting demonized has to do with the business side of Hollywood. When Birth Of A Nation was released, it had an immediate wide release yet it floundered at the box office, quickly falling out of the top 10 after its second weekend, and it had middling reviews. In contrast, Manchester By The Sea has far better reviews (currently sitting at a 97% rating at Rotten Tomatoes) and is performing better financially. It's had a slower theater rollout and is already at $14.5 million, recently almost cracking the top 5 at the box office. Typically, it is both box office and critical praise that determine an awards player and if Nate Parker isn't bringing either of those to the table, then his work will get ignored. Last year's Steve Jobs may have been a box office failure but it still delivered with the critics and went on to score two Oscar nominations.
The last factor has to do with what's on screen. Even though Casey Affleck has been accused of sexual harassment, his character in Manchester By The Sea isn't a sexual harasser and in fact, his character often rejects advances by women. But Birth Of A Nation not only apparently uses gang rape as a catalyst for Nat Turner's slave rebellion even though it's historically inaccurate but Parker co-wrote the film with Jean Celestin, the man found guilty of the 1999 gang rape trial. So it becomes more difficult to separate the art from the artist when his art reflects his personal life.
That's why it's easy for people to watch films by Roman Polanski. His films don't depict child rape and because he's only a director on his projects, the audience doesn't have to look at his face. Even though there are those that still hate Mel Gibson, people still went to see Hacksaw Ridge because he is only behind the camera and the film isn't a reflection of his personal struggles. Yet the recent reveal involving the 1972 film Last Tango In Paris which depicts a brutal rape scene between Marlon Brando and his young female co-star Maria Schneider, makes it harder to separate the man from his art because Schneider was actually raped by Brando without her consent while director Bernardo Bertolucci filmed it. After the scene was finished, Brando didn't apologize to Schneider.
Now even though there isn't much coverage on Casey Affleck, should Affleck do some sort of a mea culpa and own up to his mistakes? I think he should. He should do what Nate Parker and Marlon Brando failed to do and apologize for his mistakes. Like Tanner Bolt from Gone Girl says, America loves it when a man publicly admits he's an asshole. But the media shouldn't paint Affleck as a victim the way Nate Parker, Johnny Depp, and Stanford swimmer Brock Turner who recently got released from prison, were as they were put to trial for rape and abuse.
As I said before, I am not siding with Casey Affleck, the man. I don't know the man and I'm not his friend. While I will be rooting for his performance in Manchester By The Sea during this awards season, I will only be rooting for his performance because I think his performance is one of the best of the year. Typically, when I go see a film, I go see it because of an actor's or a director's work and not for their personal lives.
I know that it makes the situation more complicated because by supporting the films of Affleck, Polanski, etc., we are still overlooking their horrific personal lives and allowing them to still have a career in Hollywood. But when we go and see their work, we tend to judge solely their work and not what they do off screen. We at least judge only their work until the movie ends where we can then judge their character. So there is a certain degree to when we can separate the art from the artist. We can still judge the person behind the art. I've judged Mel Gibson plenty of times. But when their work doesn't reflect their wrongdoings, we are able to observe their artistry.
So that was my long analysis on why Parker's work is getting punished while Affleck's is being celebrated. If anything that I said was ever taken out of context, please forgive me. Also, feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks for reading!