By Amy Mackelden
Recent sexual assault allegations about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Brett Ratner have shone a light on the dark recesses of Hollywood. While rumors about all three circulated widely for years, prior to any criminal investigations taking place, many people have expressed shock at the degree to which each man appears to have abused their power, and the vulnerability of young people in their industries, to exact sexual gratification. With some of the allegations crossing the line from sexual misconduct to rape, it’s clear that change needs to happen fast. So should we be boycotting the work of abusers, and only buying tickets to movies that don’t profit abusers at the expense of their victims? And is a boycott even possible, or is that oversimplifying a much more complex issue?
Allegations of sexual misconduct concerning Hollywood stars are nothing new, but ordinary, the industry finds a way to forgive the abusers all too quickly. Take Mel Gibson, for example, whose crimes range from domestic violence, to heinous anti-Semitic remarks. He can currently be seen in the “comedy” Daddy’s Home 2, playing Mark Wahlberg’s dad. But what if the general public aren’t ready to welcome the Lethal Weapon star back with open arms? Particularly as he remains so unrepentant, saying (via Variety) of his anti-Semitic rant, “others bring it up, which kind of I find annoying, because I don’t understand why after 10 years it’s any kind of issue.” Basically, daddy’s home, whether we like it or not.
Johnny Depp's acrimonious divorce from Amber Heard hasn't affected his career in the slightest, despite involving claims of domestic violence and financial coercion. Since the split, he’s banked roles in blockbusters like the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and dusted off his Jack Sparrow outfit for yet another superb Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In fact, in 2017 he won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Icon, which one must assume was due to his performance in TMZ’s “Johnny Depp Goes Off on Amber Heard… Hurls Wine Glass” video.
The trailer for Ghost Story, starring Casey Affleck, looked great, but I can’t in good conscience sit through a Casey Affleck film, seeing as the actor so casually abused his power against women during the making of I’m Still Here. TIME has links to both of the full complaints against Affleck, which were settled for undisclosed amounts in 2010. While Affleck denies any wrongdoing, both complaints are difficult reading, particularly as both women were working on the actor’s movie at the time, and were placed in an impossible situation—to go to work to earn a living and endure harassment, or speak out against powerful men in Hollywood who have the potential to destroy careers.
The fact that Affleck is part of such a powerful family in the industry means that he’s doubly protected. When actor Constance Wu spoke out against Affleck’s actions on Twitter in January 2017, she said she was counselled not to say anything negative about the actor as it might damage her career. She also revealed that she knew producers and journalists who were afraid to speak out against Affleck, because, “Casey's [people] threaten their access to Matt and Ben.”
When men hold all of the power, and are seemingly so quickly forgiven by the general public , how can we help change the systemic abuses of Hollywood? Is it even possible to boycott the work of Depp, Affleck, and Gibson, and would it make a difference?
Prior to the allegations about Weinstein surfacing, I felt sure that boycotting the work of abusers would work. While only a simple gesture, I was convinced that if enough people voted with their wallets, and helped to tank the movies of so-called movie stars whose personal lives consisted of whisperings of abuse, perhaps the system would start to change. But now that we know Weinstein has been an alleged abuser and rapist throughout his entire career which spans decades, it feels as though every project he’s been involved with is tainted. So far, 57 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault, or rape, and the number is likely to be far higher now that victims have been given a voice, and protection from Weinstein’s abuses of power, they previously didn’t have.
Realistically, what does boycotting Weinstein’s work mean? Seeing as the producer pioneered and bankrolled several iconic directors of the ‘90s, it means no more Quentin Tarantino, and no more Kevin Smith. However, Smith revealed on Twitter in October 2017 that he feels “ashamed” about his ties to Weinstein in the light of sexual assault allegations against the producer. Instead of merely stating his disgust, Smith has pledged to donate all of the residual profits from his movies that were funded by Miramax or Weinstein to the Women in Film initiative, which advocates for the careers of women in the screen industries. While Tarantino has severed ties with The Weinstein Company, it’s unclear whether he’ll make a monetary pledge in the way Smith has done.
While Smith’s pledge, to donate all money he earns associated with his work with Weinstein, doesn’t right the wrongs already committed, it signals that change is afoot. Smith is taking responsibility for his part in Weinstein’s actions, having profited from the producer’s support for decades, and is attempting to ensure that women’s careers in film are protected, promoted, and furthered. Perhaps it’s a small gesture, but it’s money that the Women in Film initiative might not otherwise have had, and in this instance, boycotting would void the financial benefits women in Hollywood might see from this move. If Tarantino, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and every other poster child for Miramax and The Weinstein Company also wrote checks for their profits in the same way, then the entertainment industry would start to see a positive change when it comes to supporting the careers of women.
As for Brett Ratner, who has been accused of sexual assault and rape by six women so far, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that we all boycott his classic contributions to film including, but not limited to, the Rush Hour series, Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson, The Family Man starring Nic Cage, and Tower Heist. I know you’re sad about this decision to remove these works of art from your DVD collection—but Ratner no longer deserves our indifference, let alone our box office sales.
Kevin Spacey’s career has been filled with accolades, including two Oscar wins, but recent allegations allege that he’s assaulted multiple boys and men over a thirty year period. Netflix’s decision to sever all ties with Spacey, and move forward with Season 6 of House of Cards without him, is an interesting move considering his character is central to the plot. However, it’s the right move, and means Robin Wright can finally take center stage in the series that she’s carried for five years now. While we can’t get back the five seasons we’ve already watched, we can move forward knowing that Spacey will no longer profit from his abuses.
Famous men shouldn’t get a free pass anymore. It's time we stop supporting their careers, even if their movies look cool or whatever. I refuse to contribute to the financial success of abusers who live in broad daylight, seemingly without recompense, like Gibson, so I’ll sadly be missing Daddy’s Home 2. And as a previous Woody Allen fan, I feel immense guilt at not boycotting him sooner, especially as his movies so often portray the abuses of older men against young women as romantic. But I can’t bury my head in the sand anymore. Until we demand justice for women and the people affected by sexual assault and violence, sexism will reign. While boycotting won’t always be the right move (as is the case now that Kevin Smith is donating his residual profits), it’s important that we consider each project on a case by case basis, and ensure that abusers are held to account for their actions.
Amy Mackelden is Weekend Editor at ELLE, Harper’s BAZAAR, and Marie Claire. She’s written for Bustle, HelloFlo, Ravishly, Greatist, Byrdie, The Independent, Hello Giggles, New Statesman, and Cosmopolitan. She’s currently developing MS Is My Boyfriend, a show about what life with multiple sclerosis is really like.