THIS SPECIAL “SOAPBOX SPECIAL” IS A LESSON TOPIC THAT IS LENGTHY ENOUGH TO BE ITS OWN EDITORIAL. THIS ONE IS GOING TO TAKE A BIT TO SPELL OUT. HERE GOES. COME AT ME, BRO!
LESSON #1: IF YOU MADE A LIST OF ALL THE FILMS TO BOYCOTT BECAUSE OF PEOPLE WITH UNCLEAN RECORDS AND REPUTATIONS (FOR WHATEVER REASON), YOU WOULDN’T HAVE MANY FILMS LEFT TO WATCH— The arrival of Woody Allen’s latest film Wonder Wheel brought on an editorial over on RogerEbert.com written by Olivia Collette entitled “Why I Stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies.” I feel like this sentiment comes around each year and with each new Allen film, yet the narrative doesn’t change. People talk of boycotting his films, yet here he is still making films on an annual basis in his 80s. Maybe his checkered history is amplified even more this time around by the recent epidemic wave of attention being given to the seemingly endless sexually-centered wrongdoings in Hollywood.
Even so, I hate to tell you this, but Woody Allen’s talent is not moot or erased by his transgressions. His films still exist and are worthy of their regard. He still wins awards and people flock to work with him because, bad person or not, the man is one of the greatest to ever gaze through a camera and yell “action” and “cut.” This isn’t old baseball record book behaviors. Annie Hall, Midnight in Paris, and any other respected Woody Allen film don’t carry asterisks because they were made by “he who must not be named or celebrated.” The work should and does speak for itself.
The very same goes for any of the names that have been mentioned this year or those from decades past that didn’t get the ferocity of today’s news cycle headlines. Go look up the skeletons in the closet of Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, or any other of the forgotten scandals from this Ranker list. They did plenty that would break the internet if it happened today. Formerly recent names like Allen, Bill Cosby, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, and more have well-documented histories that have had their attached hate subside to some degree with time. Hell, Gibson was a multiple Oscar nominee last year with Hacksaw Ridge. Ignoring how many of this new rumors ever end up with guilty sentences and substantiated claims and how many don’t, will time soothe the reputations of new names like Harvey Weinstein, Casey Affleck, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and others?
Current and short-sighted torch-carrying folks, fueled by all of this news cycle and Twitterverse of newly surfaced rumors and claims, seem to want to ignore and/or remove all of the work done by these new names. Just look at what’s happening to Kevin Spacey. When the current generation does that to Spacey and does not do the same to any of those aforementioned names of yesteryear who did more and plenty worse, I find them to be absolute hypocrites. If you’re going to feign concern for social justice and make those selective lists to boycott, be complete about it. Execute real integrity. Turn back the hands of time and add everyone. If you’re not going to do that, then don’t make the list at all, because a selective one just looks preachy and petty.
This is where the title of the lesson/rant comes in. If you took away every actor or actress that (*pick the laundry list sin item that irks your armchair sensibilities*) ever used illegal drugs, got a DUI, committed homosexual or heterosexual adultery, had a child out of wedlock, had an abortion, married multiple times with or without proper annulment or divorce, committed a crime of physical or verbal assault/abuse, or acted in a derogatory way to a person of differing race, gender, or orientation, you wouldn’t have many people left, period. If you truly don’t condone all of that, then you shouldn’t be watching movies or TV shows. This lesson applies to athletes too. They makes millions because people pay millions for their work. That doesn’t mean they are better or worth idolizing in a warped way.
I, for one, have made it a point, going back to the beginning of my love and work with movies two decades ago, to strongly and consistently separate the public persona from their work and craft. They are two entirely different things to judge. The films are inanimate and subjective pieces of art and entertainment to judge. The same cannot be done with people. Those are different judgments that, frankly, are rarely ours to pass.
We hardly ever hear or learn of the whole story behind any of these rumors, so any definitive judgment from us would be incomplete and irrational. That said, audiences and fans are allowed to make choices and preferences from the information they know or think they know. That’s fine. Be a selective consumer. Be an informed fan as best that you can. Have discerning taste suitable for your comfort levels. All of that is fair, but we are not in charge of their courtrooms, boardrooms, bedrooms, spouses, or places of worship where real judgment takes place. We’re outside of that and we should stay outside of that. You wouldn’t want someone passing incomplete judgment on you, so don’t do it to strangers you blindly placed on entertainment pedestals.
To outline examples of my mentality, I can dislike Tom Cruise’s beliefs and still enjoy a Tom Cruise film with no reservations because it’s about the work and not the person when the lights go down and the movie starts. I can never remove Kevin Spacey or O.J. Simpson from the movies I watch and enjoy. I will have Alfred Hitchcock films on my all-time best lists without hesitation or a second thought because the films deserve those merits even if the man behind them doesn’t. If anything, their places and appearances become a reminder and a time capsule for a woulda-coulda-shoulda cautionary tale. If we are really going to reflect on the individual acts of wrong, learn something, grow from observing these mistakes, that’s how those defamed people should be looked at and remain in Hollywood history.
I highly encourage others to seek or at least entertain the same. Separate the person from the art. Open your mind to more objective rationales. If you can’t, then you can’t. Everyone has their limits and I get that, but there is a point where you’re doing the medium a disservice to think you can ignore talent and achievement.
Where do we go with this? Last month on this column, I shared that sadness and disappointment should be among the first emotions that arrive well before outrage and judgment when these shocking claims and stories come to light. I made that my universal stance statement to purposefully choose to stand on a shorter and calmer soapbox. In that same column, I expanded on Feelin’ Film co-founder Aaron White’s discussion thread question of “at what point do we require more than just an allegation to ruin someone’s life forever?” I echoed his mentality to properly practice “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around.
Empathy and patience need to be preached, especially if those accused and even those that have been proven guilty have sought contrition or have paid whatever proper price was assigned for their mistakes and/or crimes. A way to do that concretely and consistently is to separate the person from the work. You then bring the right respect and reflection to the art and become part of the healing, not the hurt. Try it. I think you’ll feel better.
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, Medium, and Creators Media.