This past weekend Casey Affleck took home the Critic’s Choice award for best actor, for his role in the film Manchester by the Sea. It isn’t the first big acclaim Affleck has won this award season, and it likely won’t be his last; as of right now he’s the favorite to win the Academy Award for best actor, and his series of wins so far, as well as his recent Golden Globes nomination, supports that notion.
Most likely he’ll win and most likely, when that happens, we will officially forgive and forget that Affleck has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women.
Affleck built his acting career from the ground up, and after about ten years of being mostly recognized for being Ben Affleck’s brother, he was finally hitting his stride and making a name for himself. Sure, he was still best known for being Ben’s little bro and one of Matt Damon’s best buds, but by 2008 he already had an Oscar nomination under his belt and was riding a wave of critical acclaim for his role in Gone Baby Gone. So if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard much about Affleck since, it’s because of his 2010 “artistic endeavor” I’m Still Here, his directorial debut.
The film was a presented as a documentary following Affleck’s then brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix as he announced he was retiring from acting and pursuing a rap career. If you don’t remember this film it’s because it was a train-wreck, and was completely bashed by critics after it was revealed that the entire thing was a hoax, and not a true documentary. One critic said, “The worst thing about I’m Still Here is the fact that it exists,” and the only truly remembered part is the disastrous interview featuring Phoenix on the David Letterman show, where he appeared high and incoherent.
Shortly after I’m Still Here was released the film’s producer, Amanda White, and cinematographer, Magdelena Gorka, sued Affleck for sexual harassment.
White, who had nearly a decade-long history of working with Affleck, joined the project in 2008. She was the only woman on the set at the time, and says she was repeatedly harassed by Affleck, as well as the rest of the crew as they were encouraged by the director. White shared a number of cases of inappropriate and aggressive behavior, including one instance in which Affleck ordered a male crew member to show White his penis. On another occasion she described, Affleck attempted to get her to share a hotel room with him. When she refused, Affleck allegedly grabbed her and tried to intimidate her into spending the night with him, and then sent her abusive text messages afterward, calling her “profane names,” for refusing him.
White also claims that at one point Phoenix and Affleck locked themselves in her hotel room to have sex with two women. Affleck was married to Phoenix’s sister at the time. The two have since divorced.
Gorka, who had left the project before White, described similar experiences, in which Affleck and other members of the crew openly discussed having sex with her. Assuming their comments would be the worst of the harassment, she stayed on with the project. But when the production team decided to stay at Phoenix and Affleck’s apartment in New York while filming in December of 2008, the harassment escalated. According to Gorka, she awoke in the middle of the night to find Affleck in the bed next to her, in just a shirt and underwear. “He had his arm around her, was caressing her back, his face was within inches of hers and his breath reeked of alcohol,” Gorka’s complaint said. Gorka ordered Affleck out of her room, and said he responded angrily. Besides the terrifying realization that your boss is in your bed, what’s even scarier here is that Gorka doesn’t even know the full extent of this act of harassment, as she was asleep. She quit the project immediately after.
The complaints go on from there, and besides being berated and abused, Affleck failed to follow through on parts of both women’s contracts. Gorka was refused a “Director of Photography” credit in the film, which was part of her employment agreement, while White was denied her producer’s fee and was barely paid during her actual work on the film.
Both women sued for over $2 million, and both lawsuits were settled, though it’s not public information for how much.
And now, eight years later, Affleck is on his way to one of the highest achievements an actor can earn, and his career is sure to skyrocket from there (at the very least his paychecks will).
But lucky for Affleck, basically nobody cares. There was very little press coverage nearly seven years ago when the suits were filed, and there’s barely any now despite Affleck’s projected success. As review after review comes out on Manchester by the Sea, and Affleck’s performance, only a few have even mentioned the lawsuits, and even those present them as an afterthought.
This is especially jarring considering Nate Parker’s Oscar prospects were completely destroyed immediately after the press started asking about the rape accusation he was acquitted of in 1999. There are a few notable differences in these cases: First of all, Affleck is white. Second of all, he has a fancy last name. The Huffington Post recently speculated that media outlets aren’t asking Affleck about his seedy past because there’s a risk of them losing access to Damon and the older Affleck if they ask relevant questions to serious crimes.
This is how abusers like Woody Allen continue to work and live without consequences for their actions. If you take a white male with a history of abuse and present him as complicated and artistic, the world can be pretty forgiving.
Let’s not forget that the next time we see Affleck smiling on the red carpet or telling a cute story about his childhood in an interview on his road to the Oscars.
Published December 13, 2016
Photo: Manchester by the Sea
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