Renée Graham

A tipping point on sexual misconduct? Don’t count on it

Mel Gibson, Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, and John Lithgow in “Daddy's Home 2.”
Claire Folger/Paramount Pictures via Associated Press
Mel Gibson, Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell, and John Lithgow in “Daddy's Home 2.”

“Daddy’s Home 2,” one of last weekend’s highest grossing films, boasts among its stars a man who went on an anti-Semitic tirade during a 2006 drunk driving arrest, was later captured on audiotape verbally abusing his then-girlfriend, and later pleaded no contest to a domestic violence charge.

In other words, don’t count out Louis C.K. or Kevin Spacey.

Mel Gibson has been where Spacey, Louis C.K., and a growing list of prominent men now find themselves: a roiling public hell of their own creation. In 2006, after Gibson referred to Jews in profane and bigoted terms and made a sexist crack at a female police officer, Vanity Fair declared him a “pariah.” Super agent Ari Emanuel wrote that people in Hollywood should shun Gibson “even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”


Yet for someone once thought forever condemned into exile, it feels like those “times” lasted only slightly longer than it would take to get through a double feature of “Braveheart” and “The Passion of the Christ.”

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Ever since a New York Times investigation revealed last month serial sexual misconduct by entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, there’s been talk of the “Weinstein effect.” It’s been said this is a critical cultural moment, as victims shed the weight of their silence and sexual predators finally suffer professional, personal and, perhaps, legal consequences for their hideous behavior.

Yet Gibson’s career resurrection, which began last year, when his film “Hacksaw Ridge” scored a fistful of Oscar nominations, points to the fallibility of tipping points.

We’ve witnessed this before. Impeached for lying about his affair with a White House intern, former President Bill Clinton is now a beloved elder statesman of the Democratic Party. Convicted rapist Mike Tyson got laughs playing himself in the comedy blockbuster “The Hangover” and its first sequel. Reruns of “The Cosby Show” returned to cable network TV One, though Bill Cosby, accused by dozens of women of drugging and sexually assaulting them, was still on trial for three counts of aggravated indecent assault. That case ended in a mistrial; Bill Cosby is due to be retried next spring.

Gibson’s “Daddy’s Home 2” costar, Mark Wahlberg, has long received undeserved absolution because he was a teenager when he threw rocks and shouted racial epithets at black schoolchildren and assaulted two Asian men in Boston. Last year, Wahlberg, who spent 45 days in jail for the assault, sought a pardon but ultimately dropped his request.


When we speak of tipping points, we’re yearning for seismic change. Barack Obama’s election as president was supposed to usher in America’s post-racial era; instead, racism dropped its mask and white supremacy pushed back. Sweeping gun control measures were expected after the murders of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There were none, but a Connecticut gun manufacturer 22 miles from Newtown saw profits rise $70.6 million to $111.7 million in the year after the massacre.

From Hollywood to restaurants to newsrooms to Alabama’s Senate race, sexual predators are being exposed, but change moves at a glacial pace. During a recent stand-up performance, Chris Rock said women “cry rape because they want money,” and, fearing rape accusations, he’s reluctant to hire women. He was booed, but it still says something that even in this empowering climate, Rock believed he could mine jokes out of rampant sexual misconduct.

There are few tipping points. Instead, there is only constant agitation from survivors and their allies to ensure that their stories, whether they occurred decades ago or today, don’t fade from our attention. We already know what happens when public outrage hits an expiration date. Men accused of harassing or assaulting women still get to star in family-friendly films — or get elected president of the United States.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.