Thursday, April 20, 2017

About that Disclaimer

by Eric Peterson

If you’ve listened to our fourth episode already, you’ll notice that for the first time, it doesn’t begin with a guitar riff and the resonant baritone of Frank DeSando, our editor, mixer, occasional critic, and constant cheerleader.

Instead, I kicked off this episode, with a disclaimer. Specifically, I said exactly this:
Hi, this is Eric, and you’re listening to POPeration!. We’re beginning this week’s podcast with a disclaimer. This episode is all about what happens when actors, directors, and other artists do unsavory things in their personal lives, and how it affects their audiences. One of the people we discuss at length is Casey Affleck, who recently won the Oscar for Best Actor amid allegations of sexual harassment dating back to 2010.
Stacey and I had this conversation about a week before we were ready to publish it. At that time, I was under the impression that Affleck had essentially admitted to some of the allegations made against him. He has not. To be clear, Casey Affleck hasn’t admitted to anything. The lawsuits against him were settled out of court, and he has not specifically confirmed or denied anything he was accused of. I apologize for misspeaking. Enjoy the show.
My words were not lightly chosen. Nor were they “off the cuff,” as is typical for the conversations Stacey and I usually have on our show. They were written in advance, then rewritten, then edited, then perused by Stacey for her agreement. It was the first time we’d noticed we’d gotten something wrong, and wanted to be very clear and intentional about how we admitted that.

It was important to me that I take full responsibility for my mistake. If Casey Affleck ever listens to our conversation (and I realize that he probably wouldn’t want to and therefore won’t), he deserves to have these allegations discussed factually. More importantly, Stacey and I won’t always be perfect, and we wanted to set a template for taking accountability for our errors in a way that was satisfying from an ethical standpoint. We’re really proud of our show thus far, and wanted to remain so.

Try shaving, Casey. Also, try not being so rapey.
So there are things I said in my little disclaimer and things I didn’t say. I said that I got the facts wrong. I said that it was a mistake (i.e., I didn’t know I was mistaken at the time). I offered an apology. What I didn’t say was this: I still believe that Casey Affleck did just about everything that he was accused of doing.

And it’s a long list. Affleck’s two accusers stated that he consistently bragged about his sexual exploits in a way that made them uncomfortable. According to them, he ordered a crew member to take off his pants and show one of the women his penis. One of the women says she was prevented from returning to her hotel room one night because Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix were there, having sex with women (and, by the by, the fact that Affleck was, at the time, married to Phoenix’s sister adds an additional layer of creepy to this story). At one point, Affleck allegedly suggested sharing a hotel room with one of the women, who refused; at that point, Affleck was alleged to use physical intimidation to force her to comply.

Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that yes, this was a movie set, which many of us probably imagine is one big creative playground for adults, and … for these women, it was their workplace. Think about your boss treating a woman who works for him in this way, and ask yourself if that’s remotely okay.

Of course, there was also the incident mentioned on our show, where one of the women alleged that she woke up in the middle of the night to find Affleck in her bed, fondling her from behind. Again, just for full accountability, Affleck never admitted to doing this.

Nevertheless, I believe that it happened, just like I believe everything else in that suit. I can’t prove it; I can’t responsibly discuss it as fact. I regret doing exactly that during our show -- hence the disclaimer. But I can repeat that I believe it as often as I want, and so I’ll do it again: I believe Affleck’s accusers.

A quick review of the Internet Movie Database reveals that one of Affleck’s accusers, a cinematographer, has continued to find work on a number of projects, with four currently in production. The other woman, a producer, has two credits that follow I’m Still Here and hasn’t worked in the film industry since 2012.

This evidence isn’t conclusive, but it does suggest that filing these lawsuits was a big risk for Affleck’s accusers, and that one of them – either by circumstance or by choice – is no longer working. And while some find it feasible, even likely, that for these women, this was just a big money grab from a rich and famous person, the fact is that you can make a lot more money being a successful producer in Hollywood than you can from suing Casey Affleck for sexual harassment (each woman sued for around $2M, and the case was settled for an undisclosed amount, which could very well be less).

Add to this a 2013 study that suggests that 70% of sexual harassment goes unreported, and it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there (mostly women) who will remain silent about sexual misconduct from bosses and colleagues – probably for a host of reasons, but the fear that they’ll be forever known as the woman who sued her boss (and therefore “can’t take a joke” or “hates men” or “is motivated by greed” or “probably asked for it”) is likely chief among them.

When Variety asked Casey Affleck about the lawsuit, he said this: “People say whatever they want. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond ... I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everybody has families and lives.”

It’s an incredibly dismissive comment, one that suggests that these women were just interested in gaining attention, probably motivated by greed and/or jealousy, and that these allegations just fell thoughtlessly out of these women’s mouths, as if the act of recounting these stories wouldn’t be degrading in and of itself. It's almost as if Affleck takes for granted that anyone who would buy a copy of Variety to hear what a movie star has to say about anything would take his word over the idea that the only good reason his accusers would have to sue him would be to see justice done.

Personally,  I find it a lot more believable that Casey Affleck thinks that if you’re not well-known, it’s perfectly fine to do anything you want.

I disagree.

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