Why The Casey Affleck Sexual Harassment Allegations Just Won’t Stick

12/05/2016 06:22 pm ET Updated Dec 05, 2016
 Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Ben Affleck.
Photo: Todd Williamson/Getty Images
Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, and Ben Affleck.

Casey Affleck, the 41-year-old younger brother of Ben, is predicted to win an Oscar for his starring role in Kenneth Lonergan’s New England family drama Manchester by the Sea. He posed for the cover of Variety in October, offered himself up for a New York Times profile earlier this month, and appeared on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend to push the narrative that has coalesced around his campaign: He is Boston’s humble, overlooked kid brother who deserves to finally get some recognition for his talent. In each interview, Affleck has insisted that he doesn’t want fame, and that he is hesitant to put himself back in the spotlight after his last Oscars go-round, in 2007, when he was nominated in the supporting-actor category for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. In the Times profile, titled “Casey Affleck Is Making Another Splash, Reluctantly,” Affleck declared, “I have no desire to be famous at all.” Notwithstanding this display of modesty, Affleck is putting himself out there. He’s showing up to interviews with a scraggy new beard “for a role,” spouting off anecdotes from his childhood, and smiling for the paparazzi like never before. Casey Affleck wants an Oscar, and he’s doing what you have to do to get one. Lucky for him, critics are calling him a front-runner.

So what about those sexual-harassment allegations? Luckier still for Affleck, nobody seems to care. In recent weeks, publications including the Daily Beast, Mic, and Mashable have argued that critics and fans should be paying more attention to the fact that two separate women accused Affleck of sexual harassment in 2010, but the story has yet to pick up steam. The prestigious outlets granted access to Affleck during his Oscar campaign have barely mentioned the allegations — CBS did not even ask him about them — so Affleck has not had to seriously contend with his past on this promotional ride to his Academy Award–winning future. Affleck’s alleged history does warrant attention, however, because it paints a much different picture of the actor than the one he is currently presenting to the press.

The women who accused Affleck of sexual harassment worked for him on the critically derided Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I’m Still Here in 2010. Affleck has described the film as a failed “passion project,” but his accusers had much darker things to say about what went on behind the scenes. Producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka sued Affleck for $2 million and $2.25 million, respectively, alleging that Affleck verbally and physically harassed them throughout filming. At the time, Affleck was married to Summer Phoenix, Joaquin’s sister.

In her complaint, White claimed that Affleck constantly discussed his “sexual exploits” during filming, and that at one point, he directed another crew member to show her his penis, despite her objections. White also alleged that Affleck once attempted to get her to stay in a hotel room with him, and when she said no, he “grabbed her in a hostile manner in an effort to intimidate her into complying.” Gorka described similar behavior in her complaint, including a disturbing incident in which Affleck allegedly crawled into bed with her while she was sleeping. The crew was staying at Affleck’s apartment in New York after a long night of shooting, Gorka said, and Affleck told her she could sleep in his bedroom, while he slept on the couch. According to her complaint, Gorka woke up that night to find Affleck “lying in bed next to her.” He had entered the room while she was sleeping, she said, and when she woke up, “he had his arm around her, was caressing her back, his face was within inches of hers and his breath reeked of alcohol.” When she asked him to leave the room, he got angry. Gorka called her treatment on set “the most traumatizing of her career.”

His behavior, as described in their complaints, is not the behavior of a humble actor uncomfortable with fame. It is the behavior of someone who uses his own power and privilege to take what he wants from women.

When White and Gorka filed their lawsuits in 2010, Affleck denied all of the allegations and threatened to countersue. He quickly agreed to mediation, however, and settled both suits for undisclosed amounts. Earlier this year, he quietly separated from his wife. When asked about the allegations now, Affleck describes them as baseless attacks on his family. He told the Times that he does not feel responsibility for what happened, and that “it was settled to the satisfaction of all. I was hurt and upset — I am sure all were — but I am over it.” To Variety, he characterized the lawsuits this way: “People say whatever they want.”

Since Affleck settled, the public will never know if he is truly guilty of harassing two female subordinates. Perhaps White and Gorka were just saying whatever they wanted about him, at the risk of their own careers and personal lives. If they were telling the truth about Affleck and his behavior, however, Affleck is not who he says he is. His behavior, as described in their complaints, is not the behavior of a humble actor uncomfortable with fame. It is the behavior of someone who uses his own power and privilege to take what he wants from women.

Audiences have not had to grapple with Affleck’s alleged faults, because the media has largely ignored the lawsuits since they were settled. Luckiest for Affleck, he is the brother of a major movie star and the childhood friend of another. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have championed and protected Casey throughout his career, sending a message to the media that they are a united front. Lainey Lui of Lainey Gossip noted earlier this month that Ben and Matt have been particularly present throughout Casey’s Oscar campaign, showing up smiling to premieres and posing for photos as a trio. Matt, who himself produced Manchester by the Sea, sang Casey’s praises to both the Times and Variety. This brotherly posing makes prestige outlets hesitant to ask the younger Affleck tough questions, for fear of losing access to all three stars. His cruise to the Oscars continues undeterred because of his privileged position in Hollywood.

Affleck is also, according to critics, talented. As Amy Zimmerman pointed out in her piece for the Daily Beast, audiences can be incredibly forgiving of flawed male auteurs, especially if the media is not instructing them to be critical. Affleck will likely have a long, storied career like Woody Allen’s, and industry publications will never force him to answer for his actions like they did Nate Parker. Parker’s Oscar hopes for The Birth of a Nation were quashed earlier this year when outlets began asking him about the fact that he was acquitted of campus rape in 1999. Affleck has all the privilege and protection that Parker did not, which is why, although their cases are not completely analogous, their Oscar journeys have played out so differently. Parker’s career is likely over, while Affleck’s is on the rise.

This morning, the Hollywood Reporter posted an “Oscar actor roundtable” video featuring Affleck, which makes no mention of the sexual-harassment allegations against him. Earlier this week, Affleck took home best-actor prizes at both the Gotham Awards and the National Board of Review, which are early Oscar predictors. He is just getting started.

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