Oscar season means scandal season: the time for contenders’ ugly personal histories to be dredged up and re-litigated in the public eye. Already put through the wringer in 2016 was Nate Parker, the Birth of a Nation actor-director who was charged with raping a college student in 1999 and later acquitted; the film faded from the awards conversation after news broke that the alleged victim died by suicide in 2012, and Parker struggled to adequately respond. Now, as the season revs up going into December, another actor’s past is being pushed for re-examination: Casey Affleck, Best Actor front-runner for Manchester by the Sea.
In 2010, two women who worked on Affleck’s controversial documentary I’m Still Here filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual harassment. Producer Amanda White explained that Affleck physically intimidated her, encouraged other men to expose themselves to her in professional spaces, and sent abusive text messages after she refused to share a hotel room with him. In a separate filing a week later, cinematographer Magdalena Gorka described similar behavior in addition to a particularly disturbing incident: waking up in her bed to Affleck lying beside her, in a T-shirt and underwear, with his arm around her and alcohol on his breath. Though he initially denied the allegations, Affleck eventually agreed to mediation and an undisclosed settlement was reached.
The allegations received a mention in a recent New York Times profile of Affleck, and Mashable extensively covered them back in September. They have remained underreported, however, despite their recency and gravity—that is, until now. A sweeping new Daily Beast exposé makes the explicit case that Affleck’s alleged mistreatment of women should be weighed heavily against his current status as a “Hollywood underdog” primed for Oscar glory. As Amy Zimmerman, the author of the piece, writes: “As glowing writeups of Manchester by the Sea continue to roll in, Casey Affleck’s alleged crimes merit more than an asterisk.”
The Daily Beast makes a strong case that this kind of scrutiny deserves—even needs—to be a part of the awards conversation surrounding Affleck. In the heat of Oscar season, smear campaigns come with the territory—a seemingly coordinated effort against Selma a few years back, for example, led to rumors that Harvey Weinstein was feeding information to media outlets. Of course, regardless of what prompted the Daily Beast to turn its attention toward Affleck’s checkered past—whether internal frustration with how little it’s been covered or a rival campaigner providing a timely reminder—it may feel to some rather trivial to put such serious issues in the context of Hollywood accolades. But if the Oscars are providing the platform for these allegations to be openly and widely discussed, then so be it.
And as Zimmerman astutely points out, this issue can also be viewed through a racial lens when considering Parker’s swift downfall earlier this year: “We have to ask why Affleck’s history continues to be hidden paragraphs deep, or swept under the rug entirely … by selectively choosing which stars to put through the wringer, the media becomes complicit in this cycle of easy forgiveness and celebrity-related amnesia.” After years of silence and willful ignorance on the part of too many, being compelled to finally grapple with the potential of these crimes can only be a good thing.