Trigger warning: this article contains mentions of child sexual abuse, rape and domestic abuse
Variety Media recently reported Woody Allen’s latest film will star Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning. Shockingly, people were outraged a man accused of sexually abusing minors continues to find success in Hollywood. I say shockingly because I am used to actors easily slipping away from criticism.
Period drama, golden boy Colin Firth starred in Allen’s Magic in Moonlight (2014), yet has been pretty much unscathed. Steve Carell, known best as Michael Scott of The Office, was in Cafe Society (2016). Younger stars such as Emma Stone, Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart have been in his movies and Amazon-sponsored TV shows. They’ve have mostly avoided scrutiny, even those who have established themselves as feminist spokespeople.
Woody Allen is certainly not the only person to continue a career after being revealed as an abuser.
At 27, R. Kelly married a 15 year old and continues to face allegations (as recent as Aug. 20) of abusing young girls, and he still has a career. Meryl Streep, ardent feminist, enthusiastically clapped for the Oscar awarded to Roman Polanski—the director who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in 1977, then ran away to France before his sentencing.
Johnny Depp’s now ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of physically abusing and behaving biphobically toward her, and yet J.K. Rowling happily welcomed Depp into the fold of the Harry Potter universe—ironically, a series about escaping abuse.
Why? Op-ed writers routinely ask this question, and it’s difficult to come up with an answer. Woody Allen’s movies barely gross $10 million—partly because a lot of people didn’t like his movies to begin with, and partly because the general public doesn’t want to go see a movie by an abuser. What’s the benefit then for the well-established stars working with him?
There’s no real benefit, but most celebrities aren’t hurt by their decision either. Even if they get criticized on Twitter—such as the anger directed at Selena Gomez—they’ll still have a career. People will still watch Colin Firth, Kristen Stewart and Scarlett Johansson. They also have the benefit of privilege—they have access to good lawyers, agents, PR companies, and bodyguards. They don’t have to fear the abusers with whom they collaborate.
Why aren’t actors, writers and directors more universally condemned by us for working with abusers? As a queer woman, I’ve seen Kristen Stewart rise to popularity. It makes me uncomfortable. Why is Kristen Stewart, who starred in Cafe Society only last year, someone we want speaking for a community that stands against abuse? Do my fellow queer people simply not know? Why is Meryl Streep, who spoke against Trump’s sexism, okay with Polanksi? Should the feminists who follow really be following her? Probably not. J.K Rowling is similar to Streep, happy to call out abuse when she wants, but happy to overlook it when it suits her.
We live in a rape culture. It is also an abuse culture, and Hollywood enables it. But we also need to think about how we enable it. Do we really need to see Colin Firth’s latest film? Is Kristen Stewart really a worthwhile crush? Should we really go see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2? In my opinion, no. When asked about working with Woody Allen, Stewart responded, “If we were persecuted for the amount of shit that’s been said about us that’s not true, our lives would be over. The experience of making the movie was so outside of that, it was fruitful for the two of us to go on with it.”
The thing is, things do kind of work that way. If someone is racist, sexist, homophobic, a domestic abuser or a sexual abuser, it really doesn’t matter if they did it five or fifteen years ago. They did something that harmed another person.
If someone supports an abuser’s work, they are: A) okay with the fact someone hurt another person, and B) making that harm culturally acceptable. We must reject those who enable abusers. The general public snubs Woody Allen, but doesn’t hold responsible those people who turn a blind eye and work with abusers. Ignoring abuse enables abuse. If we don’t hold people accountable, then abusers will continue to be enabled, and abuse culture will continue.