The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of the publication.
There’s defensive. There’s petty. And then there’s Kenneth Lonergan.
Less than one week after winning Best Original Screenplay for Manchester by the Sea at the Academy Awards this year, the writer-director published a letter in The Wesleyan Argus, his alma mater’s college newspaper, criticizing a student journalist for the publication. In the letter, Lonergan refers to a recent opinion piece written by Connor Aberle, in which Aberle calls Wesleyan “complicit in [Casey] Affleck’s sexual misconduct” by endorsing alumnus Kenneth Lonergan. During his acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay, Lonergan repeatedly thanked Manchester by the Sea star Casey Affleck, who has been accused of sexual harassment and attempted sexual assault by the producer and the cinematographer of the 2010 film I’m Still Here.
Lonergan’s condescending response attacks the student’s journalistic integrity, suggesting that Aberle’s sloppy journalism is the result of the “author’s presumed youth.” Lonergan then rails against Aberle’s “warped PC-fueled sense of indignation,” and says that Aberle “writes as if Casey Affleck were guilty of a crime.” It is Lonergan’s belief that we shouldn’t be able to make such allegations in a democratic society “supposedly based on the rule of law.” But that might be the one thing Lonergan is right about—we’re only “supposedly” based on the rule of law in this country.
The near-universal argument made to counter against any accusation of sexual violence is that the perpetrator wasn’t found guilty in a court of law. That argument would be much easier to make if the criminal justice system weren’t historically unjust in its treatment of sexual violence survivors. This, combined with the high frequency of sexual harassment and sexism in the film industry, suggests that Affleck is more likely guilty than not. However, many people—including film audiences—prefer not to accept these accusations. It is easier to stomach the idea that that a victim is a liar, than that someone you know and love, or someone who is talented, can also be capable of evil.
For survivors of sexual harassment, this is a country ruled by a judicial system that consistently tells them that they are making more trouble than it is worth, and that the reputation of a perpetrator is more important than the humanity of a victim. Yet men such as Kenneth Lonergan who reinforce this broken system somehow find it worthwhile to complain when those who suffer speak out.
If you were upset on Oscar night that Brie Larson, an advocate for sexual assault awareness who won an Academy Award last year for her portrayal of a survivor of sexual violence in Room, had to hand over a trophy to a man accused of sexual harassment, the Academy is not the only one to blame. The blame is also that of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, whose consistent support of Casey Affleck’s awards campaign made many people in Hollywood afraid of speaking up against Affleck in fear of crossing all three of these powerful men. And finally, the blame goes to the members of the I’m Still Here crew who did nothing as Casey Affleck allegedly harassed a woman on set.
People who work in the film industry are afraid of speaking out against sexual misconduct: afraid that speaking out may hurt their careers, or that they may have to work with one of these accused men down the line. However, the sad truth is that if people don’t speak out, these will always be the men we have to work with—men like Casey Affleck, their enablers and apologists like Kenneth Lonergan and Matt Damon, and the studio executives and casting directors who value the money they can potentially make off these men over the humanity of the women who suffer under them.
If Kenneth Lonergan thinks he’s been treated unfairly while holding his Oscar for his multi-million dollar grossing film, I wonder how he’d feel if he had been treated like every survivor who has had to suffer and then watch their perpetrator succeed.