Ever since Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea started getting attention and became a contender for award season (primarily because of the acting performance of Casey Affleck, its lead star), the younger Affleck’s infamous past of being a sex-offender popped up and started taking up the limelight.
For those who do not know, Casey Affleck was charged by two of his female colleagues during the shooting of his 2010 mockumentary I Am Still Here for serious sexual harassment. He (allegedly) made unwanted advances (which include sneaking up on a bed with a woman without asking for her permission) and insulted (which include calling a woman a “cow”) his female colleagues during that period. He vehemently denied all these allegations and the charges were settled outside the court with both the parties agreeing to not talk about it again in front of media.
However, with Affleck becoming an Award season favorite, that 2010 incident came to the light again and raised the moral question of whether or not Casey, being a controversial personality, should be awarded?
Things became even more trickier when Brie Larson, who happens to be an advocate for sexual assault survivors, had to be the one to hand over the “best actor” trophies in the two biggest award ceremonies (Academy and Golden Globe), following the tradition of last year’s best actress crowning the new best actor. Larson also played a victim of sexual assault in Room which earned her the all the praises along with the awards. When Affleck won the best actor awards for Manchester By The Sea at both the Golden Globe and Academy awards, Larson did hand him over the trophies but she also made it pretty clear on stage that she doesn’t feel warm about him being awarded, by not clapping and giving cold shoulders.
Especially after his victory at the Academy Awards (arguably the most popular movie award in the world), Affleck has been receiving lots of backlashes. Over the last few days, the internet has been filled with people criticizing the Academy for awarding such a pathetic person (other than their best picture goof-up, of course). On a related note, another matter of completely snubbing Nate Parker and his film The Birth of a Nation, for him being an alleged sex-offender due to resurgence of rape charges; but treating Affleck and his film differently has made things even more difficult for the Academy and raised question of racism (with Affleck being a white man and Parker, being a man of color).
Now, the things is, Manchester By The Sea is actually a great film. Sure, art is subjective and people can have different opinions but the general feedback about the film has been really great. Kenneth Lonergan, the director made a fantastic debut sixteen years ago with the very much underappreciated human drama You can count on me, which he followed with the impressive Margaret which generally made Manchester By The Sea an anticipated movie. And Lonergan has managed to make it his best work so far, thanks to his brilliant screenplay (for which he won the Academy Award for the best original screenplay, deservingly) and masterful direction.
Casey Affleck, as the leading man in that film, has been phenomenal and given a performance that is not only the best the year 2016 has seen, but one of those acting performances which might as well go in history as one of the best ever. If we see solely on cinematic merit, then Casey was certainly the best among his fellow nominees (with only Denzel Washington being his true competitor) and the deserving winner. The Academy has a history of making controversial decisions of giving awards to undeserving film or actor but this time, they made the right decision and awarded the best acting performance.
BUT, WITH ALL THAT SAID, THE FACT STILL REMAINS THAT A SEX OFFENDER HAS BEEN GIVEN AN AWARD.
Even if we say that Casey has been awarded for playing Lee Chandler (his character in the film) fantastically, him being a pathetic human being (allegedly, though) can’t be ignored. Imagine a situation where we have a person with similar kind of activities like Casey, only the person is not an actor. Let’s say he is a public sector employee who is really good at his work, or a professor who teaches really well or a competent doctor who saves lots of lives, should he be pardoned then? Probably not.
AND THAT IS WHERE COMES THE PRIVILEGE. NOT WHITE PRIVILEGE (the term which is being used way too much these days, regarding Parker being snubbed and Casey being rewarded), BUT THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING AN ACTOR, OR BEING AN ARTIST IN BROADER TERMS.
Art is the only thing that can help an evil man being something else. When a good actor plays something on stage or screen, he becomes the character. When a director makes a great film, he becomes a great storyteller. Art gives them that privilege. To have that privilege, one needs to have talent, which is a must. But being a good person, unfortunately, is not a mandatory requirement here.
Casey Affleck has always been a terrific actor. He has done some great cinematic works in the past (Gone Baby Gone, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) and he has been rightfully awarded for his career-best work (Nate Parker’s film doesn’t hold a candle against Manchester By The Sea cinematically, just for the record). The fact that he might be a terrible person doesn’t change the fact. Roman Polanski being a child-rapist can’t take anything away from Chinatown or The Pianist, both being masterpieces of the director. Woody Allen might be a total douchebag for his allegedly disturbing behavior towards his adopted daughter (with Mia Farrow, his long-term companion) and then marrying Farrow’s adopted daughter after having an affair, but that can’t make Annie Hall or The Purple Rose of Cairo (or any other work of his) any less relatable for young, confused and sad people. Because art, even if it is performed or created by an absolutely loathsome, disgraceful human being, holds the power of affecting people. And that does a matter a lot.
It is understandable that some people just can’t accept Casey’s victory and vows to not watch any of his films, but by doing that, they are making it clear that they care more about morality and righteousness than the film medium itself. They clearly can’t distinguish between the art and the artist, and that is their choice. As far my choice goes, I am so in love with the artistic medium called cinema, so much that anything else hardly matters to me. I understand that this makes me a man of questionable moral but I have no problem living with that. To strengthen my view, I’m going to end this with a quote from one of my fellow HOFmen, who commented this on a post regarding this issue on a Facebook group (which actually urged me to write something about it, constructively):
“Talking about myself. When it comes to films, I absolutely love watching them. My obsessive relationship with films is restricted to what a film offers, not what actors and people associated with films are doing in their personal life. If they commit a crime, well, the law is there. Make them pay. Make them suffer. Let them not get hired in films. I watch films for sake of love of films- not for sake of how morally good a person is in it.”