Sexual Abuse: The filmgoer’s Dilemma

Sexual predators in the movie business (and elsewhere) are finally getting the attention they deserve…as opposed to the attention they want.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has punched a hole in the culture and let some light in. For the moment at least, the entertainment industry isn’t safe for sexual predators. In addition to Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman, and even George Takei have been accused of sexual assault and may no longer have careers. (I understand that this problem exists outside of the entertainment industry, but I’m concentrating on filmmakers here).

But what obligations do filmgoers have? Should we boycott new movies made by sexual predators? Seems reasonable. But is it still okay to watch the many excellent films that came out of Miramax and The Weinstein Company over the years? What about older movies? Can we still enjoy Jaws and Annie Hall, despite Dreyfuss’s and Woody Allen’s private behavior? If we do so, are we – as Sarah Silverman so delicately put it – ignoring the elephant masturbating in the room?

To be honest, I really don’t have an answer. I know people who refuse to see Woody Allen movies, and while I still watch them, I respect and understand these peoples’ position. But Annie Hall is a masterpiece, and masterpieces should be seen. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be upset if Allen was never allowed to make another movie.

This sort of behavior has been rampant in the film business since before the studios migrated to Hollywood. After all, it’s an industry that trades on sexual fantasy. Exceptionally attractive young people come to town and try to compete for a very few jobs. That’s a honeypot for powerfully-placed sexual predators.

When Darryl F. Zanuck ran 20th-Century Fox, he would take a 4:00 sex break every day, and it wasn’t with his wife. According to Shirley Temple, the great MGM producer Arthur Freed flashed his penis at her (she laughed). Marilyn Monroe described Hollywood as “an overcrowded brothel, a merry-go-round with beds for horses.” Director George Cukor wasn’t sexually interested in women, but he gave more close-ups to male extras who pleased him.

Charlie Chaplin, still one of the most beloved and respected filmmakers of all time, got an underage girl pregnant. He avoided a statutory rape charge by marrying her. They divorced a few years later, and it happened again with another underage girl.

And not all abuse was sexual. On nearly every film he directed, John Ford would pick one relatively inexperienced male actor and make the shoot a living hell for the poor guy. Ford would yell at him, criticize everything he did, and insult him in front of his peers.

Great artists can be horrible people. Calling out their vile behavior is good for the art, the industry, and the human race. But I’m not sure we should stop seeing their works because of it.

3 thoughts on “Sexual Abuse: The filmgoer’s Dilemma

  1. I am reminded of a Woody Allen film called “The Front” about blacklisted writers. The female lead says to Allen’s character something like “I’ve confused the artist with his art.” She is saying “I love the art but the artist is disappointing in comparison.” Retroactively erasing the art of disgraced artists is a page right out of Stalin’s playbook.

    It’s been a long time since I confused the actor and the person. I’m a big fan of Kevin Spacey – Se7en, American Beauty, etc. I was looking forward to seeing his portrayal of Gore Vidal. However, I knew nothing about the man before this scandal broke. I heard rumors he was barely closeted but had no opinion of his character. All these Hollywood types have PR flacks trying to burnish their image and the public is fed a very controlled version of the person. Here are some truisms. Actors by their nature are very needy & insecure people; with females judged 98% based on their appearance. Producers & directors need to have the skill of manipulating actors in order to get their movies made. Success breeds arrogance. That combination will almost surely result in the type of behaviors alleged. Also, if you dig deep enough everyone has some skeletons they don’t want unearthed.

    I personally have no qualms. Pretty much any movie you watch from the Golden Age of Hollywood has a sexual predator in the credits. That practice continues through today with the possible exception of small indie films. It’s just a movie; it is not a definitive statement about a producer, director or actor nor is it a moral litmus test for the movie goer.

    “But what obligations do filmgoers have? Should we boycott new movies made by sexual predators? Seems reasonable.” I don’t agree that I have such an obligation. Why do you single out sexual predators for boycott? When you consume meat, you are supporting large corporations who exploit undocumented workers at their processing plants. When you buy clothes made in foreign countries, you are supporting employers who use child labor. When you buy an iPhone, you are exploiting Chinese workers who labor under poor conditions that have caused mass suicide. The list is endless. Any commercial or retail activity you engage in has bad actors (pun intended) somewhere along the process. Everything you eat, wear, drive or look at has exploited workers during its creation. You would have to live naked as a hermit Luddite and eating only what you grow in order to be free from such moral obligations.

  2. Woody Allen is a pedophile who used to make great films. Thank you for remembering that and raising the issue generally. Viewers are free to do as they see fit, but writers who brush over the crimes of our cultural heroes imply that sexual assault and child molestation is of no consequence when compared to the value of a good film. I personally never mention a Woody Allen film without adding that he is a child molester. He went on to make his endlessly deteriorating films and probably molest many more children, but we do not have to help him get away with an untarnished reputation.

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