Media Matters: Hollywood’s culture shift on sexual misconduct should focus on prevention

by Adrian Chu, Columnist

2016 was the year where many beloved movie celebrities died. 2017 is beginning to look like the year where celebrities are dead to me.

First came the Harvey Weinstein allegations in early October, news that did not surprise many. Often the butt of public jabs on TV shows, Weinstein’s less than stellar reputation for bullying, intimidation, and misconduct extended far past private hotel rooms. The floodgates had opened, and in the aftermath, allegations of sexual misconduct came to light against Kevin Spacey. Both men were joined by numerous actors, directors, producers and individuals from outside the film industry.

Nearly all of Spacey’s work in the pipeline, including his Netflix show “House of Cards”, have been cancelled or his roles recast, most recently, Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World,” where Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty. Weinstein and his namesake company he founded with his brother faced a similar fate. Disney and Amazon dropped all of their Weinstein Company projects, leaving the company in turmoil as its bankruptcy looms.

But even these punishments may not guarantee the end for Weinstein, Spacey, or the other members of the film industry whose misconduct have come to light.

Hollywood has had a history of forgiving individuals who have done the seemingly inexcusable.  Director Roman Polanski, even in his effective exile after fleeing the US following his plea of guilty to the rape of a 13 year old girl, has still been lauded. His work continues to be among  the most respected and studied works of film, and Polanski is still working in the French film industry, releasing a 2017 film, “Based on a True Story,” premiering at the Cannes Film Festival.

Though not a sex-related scandal, Mel Gibson’s 2006 anti-Semitic rant after being pulled over for a DUI seemingly ended Gibson’s career, but after a brief hiatus, Gibson returned to the industry in starring roles and as the director of the Oscar-winning “Hacksaw Ridge.”

When cases of sexual misconduct are not settled in the legal finality of court, consequences are rarely consistent. How should Hollywood respond to Luc Besson, who fathered a child with a 16 year old child but did so overseas, where his marriage and sexual relationship with the girl was legal. What about Casey Affleck who settled his two allegations of sexual misconduct out of court?

The members of the film industry who are guilty of sexual misconduct deserve the professional exile they are experiencing, but the focus on their consequences is not sustainable for the development of a better movie industry. It is easy to accept the downfall of those in Hollywood who have sexually harassed, but they are not the only ones who suffer consequence for their actions.

Screenwriter and Director Taylor Sheridan, faces the possible end of award prospects for his movie “Wind River” due to its connection to the Weinstein Company. Though these concerns are insignificant compared to the sexual misconduct, giving even more people the incentive to silence allegations of sexual misconduct only compounds the problem.

The culture shift which is happening in Hollywood right now has been focused on the exposure of past crimes and the punishments for the men who committed them, but the inconsistency of the outcomes for people in the movie industry whose misconduct have been publicized makes long term change unlikely.

The whisper network which warned prospective actors and actresses limited the power and influence of the men accused. The MeToo movement contributed to an environment safe enough where allegations could be made public despite the shame and embarrassment they may have caused. As the moral compass of Hollywood hanging in the balance, progress, not punishment, should serve as the foundation for the structural enforcement of a more ethical Hollywood.