I can’t imagine paying — in money, or in precious time — to see a movie or TV show featuring Kevin Spacey right now. Even the photos of him that accompany each new story of predatory sexual behavior give me the willies, as I perceive the smug deadness and aggression lurking in his eyes, now fully aware that that look isn’t just harmless Hollywood conceit.
Some decisions are crystal clear these days. I know that I want nothing to do with anything Harvey Weinstein is involved in from now on. I will be able to ignore the taint on the older movies and TV shows he produced, based on what we didn’t know when they were filmed. The people who’ve made his movies over the years, particularly women, shouldn’t be punished for his sick behavior. Likewise I will avoid new work by director James Toback, whose list of accusers is now in the 300s, and Bill Cosby. I will also shun old work by Cosby; I can no longer see his face without a sense of nausea — physical, aesthetic, and emotional nausea. I feel definite about that.
But some decisions are muddier — for me, and I’m betting for many others. I find that the more I think about the question of which artists to banish from my life, the muddier the answer gets. I’m willing to read Victorian novelists such as Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens despite the presence of negative Jewish stereotypes, but I cringe at the thought of supporting Mel Gibson’s work, despite Hollywood’s renewed acceptance of him. In the former case, I see the anti-Semitism partly as a function of the time and place, to some extent; in the latter, I have no such rationale, no historical context to factor in. I just feel a gut desire not to deal with Gibson.
I am happy for those who feel more black and white about the link between the artist and his or her work. Those people are probably less prone to the hypocrisy and contradiction that I — and I’m betting many others — sometimes feel while negotiating this moment of #MeToo stories of sexism and sexual victimization. Some are able to draw a solid line between the flaws of the writer, director, or actor and the books, movies, and TV shows they create. For them, the creation is a thing in itself, completely separate from its backstory, which is solely of interest as inessential trivia. Perhaps that’s the kind of compartmentalized thinking that allowed voters to embrace Donald Trump despite his admission of sexual predation to Billy Bush; he is somehow separate from his creation, the current presidency.
Others feel that the artist’s moral faults leave a permanent stain on their work, and they automatically steer clear. There are people who haven’t seen a Woody Allen film since the early 1990s discovery of his relationship with Mia Farrow’s daughter and the allegations of child abuse against him by daughter Dylan Farrow. They’ve refused to watch anything by Roman Polanski, a US fugitive since 1978 after pleading guilty to engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
I have been far less consistent; I’ve seen many of their movies, and I was not appalled — surprised, but not appalled — when Polanski won an Oscar for directing the 2002 film “The Pianist.” Do I want to watch Allen’s “Manhattan,” with its theme of the romance between a 42-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl? No, I don’t. But I saw “Blue Jasmine” — a movie that didn’t address sexual misconduct — and enjoyed every second of Cate Blanchett’s Oscar-winning performance. If I said I thought “Blue Jasmine” was awful simply because I don’t like Allen, I’d be lying — and a bad critic.
Likewise, I continue to watch and enjoy Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Are there people who won’t watch them based on accusations of abuse and harassment against one of the greatest directors? I wonder.
It has become a personal, emotionally driven decision for me, despite all the inconsistencies. I take each situation case by case — and in the wake of the Weinstein news, there are many, many new situations. Those accused in Hollywood now include Jeremy Piven, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, Jeffrey Tambor, Brett Ratner, Ed Westwick, Andy Dick, and Steven Seagal.
And Louis C.K. At this moment, with the New York Times story reporting that he has said inappropriate things to and masturbated in front of non-consenting women, it’s hard to imagine happily sitting down with his new film, “I Love You, Daddy,” which contains themes of power abuse and sexuality. I will need to see it for professional reasons, but I’m expecting discomfort. At the same time, should I stop watching “Better Things,” the marvelous FX series created and co-written by C.K. and Pamela Adlon? Should I avoid Tig Notaro’s excellent Amazon series “One Mississippi,” which has C.K.’s name on it as an executive producer even though Notaro has said that he has nothing to do with the show and has denounced him over the allegations of sexual misconduct?
I won’t stop watching “Better Things.” I find too much wisdom and grace on the show, even if one of its creators may not exhibit either of those qualities.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.