Casey Affleck’s success this Oscar season for his performance in Manchester By the Sea is surrounded by controversy. Two sexual harassment allegations made against him seven years ago have sparked widespread debate over whether Affleck’s status allows him to get away with such behavior. I’ve loved Casey Affleck as an actor since I saw Good Will Hunting, the 1997 Oscar-winning film in which he played a supporting role. But I also am a proud feminist, so throughout the buzz about Manchester By the Sea, I’ve felt conflicted in supporting the movie.
When I heard about Manchester by the Sea, I was unaware of the previous allegations against Affleck; I was just dying to see the movie. From the trailer, Manchester by the Sea seemed to have an original storyline, the camera shots of New England looked gorgeous, and, of course, an actor whose body of work I already appreciated was the lead.
So I dragged my cousin to the movie theater on a Thursday night, and we were not disappointed.
Manchester By the Sea is one of the most genuine films I have ever seen. It captures the all-consuming pain of past trauma, and covers topics like depression, alcoholism, and grief with beautiful artistry. At the same time, director Kenneth Lonergan includes moments of morbid humor and irony. For example, he spares us the cliché scene of a family member dying in the hospital, and instead shows the tedious aftermath of relatives having to sign for the body and make funeral arrangements. After watching the movie, I had tremendous respect and admiration for Kenneth Lonergan’s writing and directing, and Affleck’s tear-jerking performance as a depressed janitor in Boston.
The problem with idolizing athletes or artists is that when they fall short of our expectations, separating them from their work becomes impossible. Growing up in Los Angeles has also given me some exposure me to the moral corruption underneath the glamour of an industry.
Part of me feel as though if we boycotted every movie made by someone who led an unethical personal life, we would be missing out on some of the hallmark films in history.
Of course, sexual harassment isn’t limited to one industry. President Bill Clinton had a controversial affair with his young intern and is still regarded by many as a great president.
I love some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books despite my knowledge that was not a great husband to Zelda.
Just because someone leads an objectionable personal life does not mean we have to disregard his or her contributions to the world.
Furthermore, I believe it’s possible to support women’s rights and at the same time enjoy art for what it is. And I think it is important to take the time to read or watch the art before taking a stance on it either way.
As a movie lover, part of me died each time a classmate refused to see the movie or despite having not seen the movie, argued that Affleck shouldn’t have won the Oscar for his performance in it.
Because Marlborough is such a liberal school, there is often pressure to view each issue under the light of the feminist movement. I am often in agreement with the majority here. However in this case, I’ve hesitated to share my two cents and risk being labeled a misogynist.
To disregard the talent and hard work it took to make this film, like Brie Larson did at the Oscars by not clapping, is understandable. However, Manchester By the Sea features incredible performances by actors other than Affleck, especially Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges. On top of that, it would not have been made without the work of hundreds of others behind the scenes. If it went against Larson’s values to present an award to Affleck specifically, then part of me feels as though she should have opted out of presenting his category instead of standing onstage and making what should have been a celebration of art about her personal beliefs.
If someone is interested in seeing the movie, they should not feel obligated to sacrifice it in the name of women. I’m glad that our country is starting to have conversations questioning gender and socio-economic privilege. At the same time, I implore us not to let personal feelings about one man keep us from appreciating his work.