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Casey Affleck and Nate Parker: How Hollywood and Its Industry Press Help Perpetuate Racism and Misogyny in Film

2016 has been a dumpster fire. Too many cool people have died, too many incompetent people have been elected President of the United States, and there are too many men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and sexual harassment that now have films they’ve worked on campaigning for Oscar nominations. Yet those two men, Casey Affleck and Nate Parker, are not being forced to deal with their pasts in the same way.

Most recently, a sexual harassment lawsuit against Casey Affleck from 2010 has gotten back into the news. Well, sort of. Back in September, Mashable asked the question, “Amid the uproar over Nate Parker, why is no one talking about Casey Affleck?” Meaning that…no one was really talking about it before that. Certainly not entertainment industry publications.

The article came almost a month after Fox Searchlight decided to try and get ahead of any controversy surrounding sexual assault charges pressed against The Birth of a Nation writer/director Nate Parker (charges they only learned about after purchasing the film) by setting up an interview for him with Deadline Hollywood, the piece that brought those charges back into the limelight. So much for “getting ahead” of controversy. It’s equally likely the 17-year-old rape charge might never have seen the light of day had it not been for Fox Searchlight getting antsy.

Since the Mashable piece, there have been a couple of pieces about the charges against Affleck: an incisive one (no pun intended) over at The Cut, and one that is critical of the too-little, too-late media coverage Affleck has been getting over at The Huffington Post. What you’ll notice if you Google “Casey Affleck sexual harassment” is that there are no entertainment industry publications that have written about Affleck. They’re all general media outlets.

If you do a search on Deadline Hollywood for Casey Affleck, you’ll get a bunch of fluff pieces about his work with headlines like “The Actor’s Side: Casey Affleck The Role Of His Career & Why He Likes Conflict, Chaos & Uncertainty.” Meanwhile, the Deadline Hollywood headline about Parker? “Fox Searchlight, Nate Parker Confront Old Sex Case That Could Tarnish The Birth Of A Nation.” BOOM. Not only does this industry blog bring up the “sex case” but speculates about Parker’s film’s chances of success. This is the first big story about the rape charges against him. Charges that were fought in court, and of which Parker was acquitted.

Affleck, on the other hand, settled out of court with the two women suing him for sexually harassing them on a film set.

The industry has nothing to say about an industry person committing a crime against other industry people while making a film less than ten years ago that they settled out of, but apparently it has plenty to say about criminal charges pressed against someone seventeen years ago before they were a part of the industry. Charges with which they were not convicted.

One needs to work really hard to not see the racism in that.

And yes, there are many differences in the cases of the two men:

  • Parker’s charges were criminal, Affleck’s civil.
  • Parker had rape as a plot point in The Birth of a Nation, whereas sexual assault doesn’t play into Manchester By the Sea. (as far as I’m aware. Someone correct me if I’m wrong!)
  • Affleck is protected by an older brother, who’s a bigger movie star, as well as their best friend, who’s also a big movie star.

As the piece in The Cut says:

“Luckiest for Affleck, he is the brother of a major movie star and the childhood friend of another. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have championed and protected Casey throughout his career, sending a message to the media that they are a united front. Lainey Lui of Lainey Gossip noted earlier this month that Ben and Matt have been particularly present throughout Casey’s Oscar campaign, showing up smiling to premieres and posing for photos as a trio. Matt, who himself produced Manchester by the Sea, sang Casey’s praises to both the Times and Variety. This brotherly posing makes prestige outlets hesitant to ask the younger Affleck tough questions, for fear of losing access to all three stars. His cruise to the Oscars continues undeterred because of his privileged position in Hollywood.”

God forbid an outlet not get to talk to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon anymore! Because there aren’t any other celebrities to interview. Oh noes! So, there’s definitely an element of legacy and privilege at work here apart from race as well. And yet, it is much more difficult, and there’s less opportunity to become a “Hollywood insider” when you’re a person of color. So, even that “insidery” privilege can be looked at through the lens of race.

Both of these men should have their actions examined. After all, women don’t generally accuse men of rape for fun, especially considering the way they’re often treated when they do. (For more, read HERE, HERE, and HERE)

Several pieces discussing both men, like the Huffington Post article, talk about the fact that this has only become an issue now that both men stand on the precipice of A-List-hood, and there’s a reason for that. With A-List-hood comes power. Real, decision-making, green-lighting, money-earning power that maybe shouldn’t go to someone with a history of treating women like ejaculate receptacles.

So yes, we should be talking about this. A lot. Whether the men are guilty or not, and it’s true that we’ll never know if either one is truly guilty (Parker’s alleged victim committed suicide years ago, and it’s likely that part of Affleck’s settlement with his accusers was that they are not allowed to publicly talk about the case, as they have refused to give statements after the settlement).

While we’re talking about things like moving the needle on female directors, or other crew positions, or greater representation of women on camera, we should also be talking about the kind of working environment studios are providing these women. It’s all very well and good to hire more women, but if you’re putting them in a den full of men with a history of mistreating them, that’s hardly an environment that’s going to keep these talented women, nor can it be considered “doing the right thing.” And so the lack-of-diversity cycle starts all over again.

And speaking of diversity, it’s infuriating that entertainment industry media, not to mention a studio like Fox Searchlight, is perfectly willing to sell out a black man like Nate Parker to “protect their investment,” but no one is forcing Affleck to do the same to protect Manchester By the Sea. No industry press is asking him the hard questions Parker has been forced to answer throughout his film’s premiere and beyond.

It’s not that Parker shouldn’t be asked to speak about these things, it’s that Affleck should. The fact that he’s not demonstrates exactly what kind of a misogynistic and racist environment Hollywood can be.

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