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Has the industry’s handling of inappropriate behavior changed (for the better)?

Kevin Spacey (left) in his most recent film ‘Baby Driver’ with Jamie Foxx (right)

By T.T. Sterns-Enzi

For whom does the bell of accountability toll in the film industry? For the agents, managers, producers, directors, and actors, it would seem, and possibly beyond the film industry, to those in the media, as well as in the kitchens of our top restaurants, and a select few in politics. But what real and meaningful long-term impact will result in our 3-to-6-month purge? 

And let’s stick with that comparison, for a moment, because what’s happening right now does, indeed, feel like something reminiscent of “The Purge,” in real time. We are discovering a not-so-hidden secret about men and their abuse of power dynamics, and the backlash, fueled by rage and a sense of much needed retribution, has escalated beyond the rules of law. Due process is rarely spoken of or encouraged by anyone, and I suppose it is easy to understand why. 

We have proven to be a society under the influence of immediacy. Outrage is spontaneous and explosive. It is far more troubling and challenging to sustain a fiery cauldron of emotion over the length of time it takes to initiate due process evaluations of evidence and facts. We are in pain now (although the victims of harassment and abuse have lived with these injuries for decades in some cases), and this type of hurt clouds our judgment, steering us away from treatment that might target the root symptoms, to a more reactionary approach, which aims, instead, to strike back, to cause an equal measure of harm to the source of our afflictions.

But what happens next?

Well, we’ve seen what happens when someone like Harvey Weinstein finds himself in the spotlight for decades of horrific abuses against women seeking to navigate through the film industry (in a variety of capacities). Loss of power and access, rapidly driven from the public. And on a deeper, possibly more hurtful level, Weinstein sees his name stricken from the credits of the films he helped usher into the critical and cultural consciousness. Filmmaking partners and acolytes flee from associations with his name and brand. Who knows where the man currently hides, just so long as he’s well away from polite society.

In a similar situation, we have Matt Lauer, disgraced for his casual predatory nature, which was protected by his stature within the NBC firmament. Now, Lauer struggles—outside the public sphere—to maintain his marriage and his relationship with his family, but we’ve heard that he has no intention of attempting a return to the spotlight. He would rather spend his time playing golf and living life as a regular person. A regular person who was hounded into some celebrity version of witness protection for preying on women. He’s in a position to live high and quite comfortably in seclusion. 

But what about accused perpetrators like Kevin Spacey and Louis CK, performers who have been removed from upcoming film projects (“All the Money in the World”) or had films (“I Love You, Daddy”) withdrawn from the release schedule? Each has expressed varying degrees of guilt and/or responsibility for his actions, leading one to believe that, after some time in cultural purgatory, he will seek to reenter society. The question will be whether or not that possibility will exist. 

As it currently stands, the likelihood for reemergence seems low. Moral outrage, especially for the more egregious affronts, demands a lifetime ban with retroactive removal from the cultural landscape. I find myself, in the case of Spacey, uncomfortable with the idea of ever watching films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Seven,” and the more recent “Baby Driver” ever again in good conscience. What’s a critic and film fan, seeking to work in good faith, supposed to do? 

In this light, I’m intrigued by the rehabilitation of a reputation, say, of someone like Mel Gibson. He performed a quite public, suicidal, version of shock and awe, years ago. Everyone, no doubt, remembers the “sugar tits” comment he made to a female officer during a traffic stop, and then his unconscionable remarks to his former girlfriend about how she deserved to be abused by black men (Of course, he used the most derogatory names during this exchange). 

And somehow, Gibson slid in under the radar, just prior to all of the recent harassment news, as a supporting player in the new Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy “Daddy’s Home 2.” Further complicating matters, he portrayed a caricature of his misogynistic persona, earning laughs that weren’t nearly as ironic or uncomfortable as they should have been. He proves that there is a willing audience, capable of either forgiveness or forgetfulness.

We will see which sentiment takes hold in 2018, but it will be important to remember that our reactions may very well have repercussions beyond entertainment.