FILM ARTICLE: Hollywood & Sexual Assault

On October 30th, Kevin Spacey came out as gay, choosing, as he put it, ‘to live as a gay man’. He also, in the very same statement, halfheartedly acknowledged the allegations of sexual assault, specifically those from Anthony Rapp, who claimed Spacey had made sexual advances on him in 1986, when he was a minor. Spacey blamed it on the alcohol.

Now, just give those first few sentences a re-read and try and spot the mistake. Or maybe mistake isn’t the right word. How about, treacherous and quite dangerous, if not completely bizarre and most importantly, harmful assortment of words (by me yes, but in relation to what Spacey said). In a period, where only a mere month ago the Harvey Weinstein story broke; countless numbers of women came forward to share their vile, but vital stories about Weinstein and sexual harassment, it appears that we are at an important watershed in time, where in Hollywood, and the movie industry heavyweights, are slowly being hung out to dry for their abhorrent behaviour. And now Spacey is another addition to a long, long list.

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But there is more to unpack here, from Spacey’s half apology to his ‘coming out’. In a double whammy of complete and utter nonsense, Spacey claimed to have little recollection of the incident involving Rapp, claiming it could have only ever been drunken behaviour (where have we heard that before?), and then, seconds later, attaching, almost as an afterthought, or perhaps, misjudged saving grace, that he is now deciding to come out as a gay man. As American comedian Billy Eichner quite aptly tweeted a day later, ‘if I ever commit a crime, I’m going to come out as straight’.

The danger in what Spacey has either knowingly, or maybe foolishly done, is play up to every time old stereotype about both sexual harassment and wrongly perceived ideas about what it is to be gay. First, the amount of times sexual assault and harassment has been blamed on drunken behaviour is, potentially, endless. And second, there is a long history, perpetuated by some in society, that those who are gay, and specifically gay men, are deviant. Yet, and as most people know (or, really you should), there is no link, and is no link here either, between child molestation and being homosexual. And yet, Spacey has managed to link the two in an ugly fashion.

It is hard to imagine he has done this purposefully, but my sympathies with Spacey are non-existent, so whether he meant no harm is really of little interest to me (sorry, although, not really). His statement will have been read, and re-read no doubt, by those in his ‘team’, so you’d expect better would you not? He has also played into the hands of those who, for instance, oppose the transgender ‘bathroom bill’ in America, primarily because they worry that those who are trans may harass their children in a bathroom. I don’t need to say how ridiculous that is (although I just did) but Spacey has really added fuel to a similar fire.

He has also added fuel to the fire when it comes to adopting marginalised identities to either excuse behaviour or deflect from the issue at hand. By coming out as gay, he is both attempting to switch the narrative, but also join a community which has been burdened by stereotypes he has just re-ignited. Harvey Weinstein claimed he has a ‘sex addiction’ (laughable at the very least) to excuse his behaviour, as though being addicted to sex means you quite naturally have no control over yourself and see fit to abuse women. Spacey, in ‘joining’ the gay community, has done a similar thing. It paints the sexual allegations onto the back of a set of marginalised people, rather than own up to them yourself. It is reported too, that Spacey is now seeking treatment for his behaviour, although I’m not sure what he has is as curable as the common cold.

And yet, amid all this, are any of us really surprised? (I’m not, and if you are, well, you need to open your eyes a little more). In a system which has, for many years, relied on casting couch culture, heavyweight studio heads, and sexual favours, Hollywood is rife with sexual assault.

The movie industry breeds power, and those who have, as with any situation where ‘power’ is at hand, use it in varying and often damaging ways.  Spacey has gone and done a similar thing. A power play of sorts, he has taken the light away from Rapp’s story, and switched it onto himself. Where Rapp’s allegations should be the headline, it’s Spacey’s sexuality that has taken the mantel.

Again, this is not surprising. For nearly every actor (let’s focus on Hollywood here), that has published, or spoken of sexual harassment, a bigger, and usually more powerful man in the industry has been there to shut it down, or lay the blame elsewhere. In a whistle-stop tour (one that really no one ever wants to go on), there has been many cases of this type of behaviour in the movie industry.

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From Roman Polanski’s 1970s rape accusations, where he is alleged to have sexually abused a girl aged 13, to the more recent case involving Casey Affleck, who saw sexual harassment lawsuits filed against him in 2010, this is a deep-seated culture in one of the biggest industries in the world. And yet, there feels as if there is little punishment for the crime. Weinstein was allowed continue for years when it is clear many knew of his behaviour (how could they not?), and Affleck, only back in February, won an Oscar for his role in Manchester by the Sea.

But the tide may be turning. It’s hard to end on a positive note here, as really, none of this feels that uplifting, however in recent weeks, director James Toback and film maker Brett Ratner have both had allegations put to them, and those who have felt the need to be silenced for so long, now have the courage to speak out. Let’s just hope those accused are held accountable for their actions (although, I’m not so positive about that one), and rather than ‘seek help’, are simply blacklisted from Hollywood instead.

Article by Emily Harrison

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