Despite all the drama around the Oscars this year, from the political boycott from conservatives to the epic Steve Harvey-esque screw-up during the announcement of the winner for Best Picture, many have also taken issue with Casey Affleck’s win for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The embattled younger brother of Ben Affleck, Casey earned his statuette for his amazingly powerful performance in “Manchester By The Sea” where he played a broken man with a past who is faced with the death of his brother and becomes caretaker to his estranged nephew. However, Affleck himself really does have a past with accusations of sexual misconduct muddling his image and taking the spotlight as his Oscar hopes began to take shape.
It’s not uncommon for people to take issue with a celebrity’s personal image when considering their body of work. Athletes, singers, and, of course, movie stars all have a responsibility to hold themselves to a higher standard as roll models and representatives of their fans, their brand, and their art. As with any celebrity, Affleck is not without his sins. In 2010 the actor came under fire when two co-workers, Amanda White and Magdalena Gorka who worked with Affleck on the parody biopic “I’m Still Here”, sued him for sexual harassment and misconduct. The lawsuits alleged many different things including unwanted sexual advances in the workplace and were eventually settled out of court, leaving Affleck’s reputation free of any official stain but many still see him as a despicable person for his perceived misdeeds as it was also never confirmed he was innocent.
So, in the days following the Oscars, this has led many to question whether or not it is appropriate to award Affleck the honor considering his personal history. I’m here to say that while I certainly in no way condone the actions he may or may not have taken part in, I do believe the Oscar was well deserved and appropriate to award and I want to explain why.
Before you go to the bottom of this page and start throwing nasty comments at me, please read on to understand my perspective. As I said I’m not saying sexual harassment or any such accusation should be taken lightly, but there is always a fine line between appreciating the person and appreciating their talent.
Let’s look at some examples. Football players are notorious for being violent people. They are the most watched athletes in America and quite a few have committed pretty terrible crimes, many times against women or even their wives. However, on the field they are extremely talented and get the job done and countless Americans cheer for them every day to get the win. Look at Mel Gibson. The man is a a bigot to put it bluntly. Few are oblivious to his anti-Semitic rants and his abuse of his spouses over the years, but he was honored with a nomination for Best Director for “Hacksaw Ridge”, an amazingly great movie. If he won, which he never had a chance in my opinion considering the competition, would we be sitting here today talking about how a racist anti-Semitic wife abuser won Best Director? Maybe, but considering the quality of his work he would still be a deserving winner of the statuette. Look at Bill Cosby, a despicable man by every definition today but still he will always be a comic legend. His talent was never questioned, only his character. Another is Michael Jackson, a man many still consider an idol and the King of Pop but was suspected of inappropriate conduct with children, an equally if not more despicable act than mistreatment of women.
Despite their sins we still consider these people to be great at what they did best, singing, playing, acting, telling jokes, whatever. Maybe that’s a sin on society. Many argue we should not reward these people and many would also argue that, unlike Affleck, these celebrities had already reached the panicle of their fame and popularity before their crimes came to light. Still, I don’t see a whole lot of difference here between them and Affleck, a man whose crimes were never even proven without a doubt, and I feel that even though these are bad people in hindsight, they are not undeserving of the credit they received during their careers.
While it is extremely important to hold celebrities accountable it’s also important to appreciate what they bring to their work. Jackson was an amazing singer with world-changing music. Cosby was a talented comedian who helped redefine his art. Gibson has helped create some of the most notable cinematic works of the 21st century as a director. Affleck’s performance in “Manchester By The Sea” was a role played to immeasurable effect and believability. I feel that it would do the art of filmmaking a disservice to overlook the deserving nature of his performance just as it would be a dishonor to the art to throw away the quality of Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” film and role because of the sins he would later commit in his career.
That’s not to say these celebrities should not be held accountable, but I believe that there is a way to acknowledge their quality work and still force them to pay for the wrongs they commit offscreen. Actually I look at the woman who presented the award to show just how that is possible. Brie Larson, who presented the award having won Best Actress In A Leading Role in 2016 for “Room”, seems to have taken center stage, no pun intended, for what many see as a subtle statement in response to Affleck’s win. An advocate for abuse awareness, Larson seemed to refuse to clap for Affleck when he came to the stage. She simply hugged him, and seemed hesitate at that, and many have read her body language to mean she was not too pleased Affleck won the award. If so that’s is perfectly fine. Assuming this was a silent protest of sorts, in doing so Brie made a tasteful and simple statement. While the role and quality of the acting might be deserving, the man behind the role may not be worth congratulating as a person. She seemed to say she accepted Casey was the winner, even though she was clearly not too impressed with the choice. It could have been her stepping out of the spotlight to allow Affleck his moment, or it could have been her way of denouncing him, either way I feel like Larson made a powerful statement, if any at all, that goes a little deeper than she may have intended. You can appreciate the talent of someone and someone’s work without appreciating who they are as a person.
Larson has, as of this post, done nothing besides step way back during Affleck’s speech to supposedly protest his win. Her awkward exchange with Affleck did not escape me as one that could have been saying a lot with so little. When Affleck walked up to the stage you could hear some cheers and the camera showed many of his fellow actors smiling, but others didn’t look as overjoyed. While he got the credit he deserved from the Academy, it seems he may not be getting the credit from his peers or from the fans. That to me is the essential point here. If Affleck pays for what he may or may not have done, he will pay for his crimes not in a loss of recognition, but in a loss of credibility from those who should respect him for it and I think that’s an important way to look at this situation.
The Academy is there to award the best performance. That’s their job and nothing more or less. I stood a cheered when Affleck won the award not because it was him, but because it was that role, that acting job, that portrayal that won the trophy. After seeing “Manchester By The Sea” I couldn’t help but appreciate the depth and emotion of that character. For one shining moment I forgot about the person and cared more about the character and the portrayal in the film not the character of the actor who played it. After all that’s why we go to the movie isn’t it? We don’t care about who the person on screen really is, only who they are pretending to be.
Looking at people that attended the Oscars, they are there to share in each other’s shining moments and many cheered Affleck, maybe out of sincerity or maybe out of respect or even maybe because they felt obligated to, but it can not be ignored that others stayed seated or were a little “meh” to the situation. While Affleck was enjoying his moment it was made very clear others may have had other things on their minds. Maybe some thought others deserved the award, maybe others just didn’t care, but there is always the possibility that the Hollywood elite, some of the most socially aware people in our country, are on edge about cheering for someone with a questionable record. That, right there, is where the statement is made. Some of his fellow actors took that moment to say “sure you won, but that does not redeem you for who you’ve been or what you may have done”.
In many ways these awards are for the role, not the actor, and for the quality and depth the actor brings to their part on screen. It’s that talent and that quality that is awarded at these shows, not the quality of the person behind it. I can respect people questioning whether or not presenting such an award to a man like Affleck can send a bad message, and don’t get me wrong this is not a writeup to deny they that right or deny credibility of their concerns. But, it’s important to remember this award is not given to people who are good people. They are given to good actors, people who pretend to be someone they are not for a living and the irony is many of those same people probably act like good people in the public eye as well.
Many before Affleck and many in years to come have and will win awards for their acting ability despite being a despicable person offscreen. In the end, celebrities will forever be defined for who they are as a person even with all the accolades they win or have earned in their years. Wrong would be a strong word to use but maybe it’s inappropriate to assume the Oscars awarded someone for being a menace. They awarded someone for being an actor, and you can’t fault them for that. That is the whole point of the show, not to judge character but to judge the character they play. Affleck’s legacy, like every other celebrity, will likely be defined by who he is as a person, but that does not mean he was undeserving of an Oscar. All it means is that this Oscar will not redeem him from his supposed crimes against women. His win in itself was a powerful statement that the award is not about the person, but the quality of the work and that we, as fans and people, can and should differentiate between who someone is and who someone pretends to be when you think about it.
Just as no award makes a good person, no good person is automatically deserving of an award either. Look how long it took the spotless DiCaprio to win his Oscar and the lovely Amy Adams still has no statuette. Just as the quality of these actors as people does not earn them automatic recognition, sometimes a great role can earn a questionable person that recognition. Sometimes that statuette is all the actor has to their credit, and maybe that will be the case for Affleck. Who knows?
To those who despise Affleck, I don’t blame you and I can’t say I disagree assuming the accusations are true. I’d never condone such actions as a person, but I can’t help but appreciate what he brought to what could very well be a career-defining roll. If you don’t want to award him for it, you can do so by acknowledging that while he may have earned his Oscar, he has not earned your respect and that may be an exponentially more powerful statement than relinquishing him of the award altogether to be honest.