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Unfilmable: The Forgotten Controversies of Hollywood’s Brightest Stars

February 15, 2017

February 26th, 2017: Hollywood’s most prominent night will air to millions of televisions across America. This is the Academy Awards, or the Oscars, the star-studded centerpiece of every cinephiles’ year, where acclaimed films are cemented into Hollywood’s storied history forever. I always watch the Oscars, a fact that embarrasses me, but I feel something different this year: Skepticism. This is due to overlooked controversies this year in the film industry. While Hollywood’s diversity problem dominated headlines last year, a new issue is on the rise. This issues seems entirely absent from newspaper headlines and entertainment magazines. There are nominated individuals with unethical, even criminal backgrounds. No major controversy was generated from Casey Affleck or Mel Gibson’s nominations this year, and I am disappointed to see no coverage on this subject in mainstream entertainment journalism. I seek to rectify this in the following editorial.

Cameras flash with swift rapidity, mirroring the blink of an eye; glitzy moments of Hollywood stardom, success, and excess are captured on photographers’ film stock, immortalized like a statue depicting a great conqueror. Extravagance is the word of the night, buzzing from ear to ear, flowing from whispering red-carpet lips. Stars from behind and in front of the camera receive admiration, as envious onlookers at home and beside the red carpet gawk in reverence of their cinematic idols. This is the Oscars, and exuberance is in the air; This is the film industry’s night to pat itself on the back and pour lavish praise on performers occupying Hollywood’s coveted spotlight.

Look to the words of three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer to find the meaning of this ostentatious night; She stated in Scarface, with placid intensity, “Nothing exceeds like excess.”

The Academy Awards were first founded in 1929, when stars were seen but not heard, and Hollywood only competed with radio for America’s imagination; California’s show business capital could make or break young stars and starlets with a single film. Controversy and criticism have doggedly tailed the award show since its inception, leading all the way to 2017.

Commercial bias emerges as an especially pervasive accusation, the case being that more publicity tends to lead to more nominations. Take into account the veritable genre known comprehensively as “Oscar bait” pictures; These are romantic historical epics, biographical dramas, romantic dramedies, and family melodramas. Finally, who can forget that media-dominating scandal of the 2015-2016 film year, the “#OscarsSoWhite” argument?

All of these controversies are relevant, important, and worthy of discussion– but when will entertainment coverage address the distressing private entanglements of Oscar-nominated individuals? They are paraded on pedestals, documented as universal success stories. They serve as shining beacons to young actors and actresses seeking inspiration; Yet, these controversial stars are hardly images of Hollywood success, despite their praise and recognition.

Audiences have seen a long line of controversial individuals receive praise and ego-lifting admiration for their work, yet their backgrounds remain untouched by press coverage. Woody Allen is revered as the greatest living screenwriter, with four Oscars to his name, yet accusations of pedophilia and molestation against him have been forgotten with little official investigation. Mel Gibson won an Oscar for his work on Braveheart and is nominated for Hacksaw Ridge this year; Entertainment reporting is praising his new nomination as a major comeback, with little reportage on his past accusations of domestic abuse and bigoted language towards Jewish and African American individuals. Possibly the most covered controversy surrounded infamous director Roman Polanski, who won an Oscar while fleeing overseas to avoid criminal punishment surrounding a conviction for raping a minor. He continues to release films, with just as much critical enthusiasm surrounding them as ever.

The list of controversial individuals expands this year, with two cases drawing contrasting media treatment during the awards season. These cases are Casey Affleck, the lauded lead actor in Manchester by the Sea, and Nate Parker, ambitious and ultimately forgotten star of The Birth of a Nation.

Lead actor of Manchester by the Sea, Casey Affleck

Two women filed a lawsuit against Casey Affleck, then known as the director of the bizarre mockumentary I’m Still Here, in 2010. In the womens’ official claims, chilling instances of clear sexual harassment are highlighted with alarming specificity, which all occurred on the set of Affleck’s film. Noteworthy instances include calling all women on set “cows,” as well as incessant sexual boasting. One strange reported instance portrays Affleck telling one of the women it was “time for you to get pregnant,” and going so far as to attempt to arrange this to occur between the woman and another cast member. Not all instances were verbal, however; Affleck physically intimidated the women. He reportedly snuck into bed with one of them, wearing only his underwear and smelling of alcohol. He caressed her body as she slept, obviously without her consent.

Suffice to say, this caused intense psychological damage to the women, as their report claims. While no details of the court proceedings were released, Affleck has said a financial settlement was reached. What is disturbing about this case is that Affleck is yet to apologize for any of the actions, or to acknowledge them in any truly open manner. He even went so far as to criticize the media covering his accusers’ claims during his Golden Globes acceptance speech after winning Best Actor. He states, “It’s my kids who give me permission to do this because they have the character to keep at bay all the noise that sometimes surrounds people who live publicly.”

This coming from the man who reportedly verbally abused and physically intimidated women on set and bragged about adultery.

“All the noise” did not diminish Manchester by the Sea or Affleck’s praise; the film is a box office and critical success, and Affleck in particular is receiving high praise for his admittedly powerful performance.

On the other end of the Hollywood success spectrum, Nate Parker stands as a solitary figure in Hollywood’s supposedly expanding African-American diversification. He stands, a tragic figure, martyred by the Hollywood awards season press. Where Affleck’s story centers on his success, Parker dominated headlines as an enterprising failure. At the Sundance Film Festival, Parker’s directorial debut, The Birth of a Nation, was showered with awards and high praise; Then the press remembered his calamitous past.

Birth of a Nation star, Nate Parker

Nate Parker and a friend of his, Jean Celestin, were accused of rape by an 18-year-old college student in 1999. The case went to trial, and the two college students defended themselves, with both maintaining all sexual relations were consensual. Parker was ultimately acquitted, while his friend was sentenced to prison. In 2012, the woman who accused Parker and Celestin committed suicide, following a bout in a rehabilitation facility. Parker has refused to remain silent on his relationship to the woman and her charges against him.

Shortly after The Birth of a Nation premiered at Sundance, reports circulated in entertainment news sources,acknowledging and criticizing Parker for his past. Unlike Affleck, Parker eagerly appeared publicly in order to offer his condolences and remorse for the woman’s family and their past, but adamantly denies guilt for the rape case and the trauma it caused. On a special episode of 60 Minutes, he states, “I was falsely accused. You know, I went to court. And I sat in trial. I was vindicated. I was proven innocent.” Legally, he is free of responsibility. So why was Parker burdened by the press and the public to the point of box office and critical ruin?

The Birth of a Nation, contradicting early reports of Oscar contention, is absolutely absent from the awards season; voters and audiences alike don’t want to touch a star with such an ambiguous past. This feeling doesn’t apply to Affleck, however; Audiences are hardly aware of his past regressions. A lack of serious, widespread reportage explains this.

Controversial celebrities in the film industry cannot go unreported, nor should their careers be laid to ruin due to biased and unfair journalism. Award shows like the Academy Awards are strong representatives of what the entertainment news industry reports, reflecting unfair biases and favoring films covered in a certain manner. When stars make it to the incessantly flashing red-carpet cameras, they await immortalization; That’s what being a movie star is all about. Life will change for any star caught in the entertainment circulation of Hollywood press. Their lives, careers, and successes are entirely out of their hands.

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