CW/TW: Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence
The longer we live in a knowledgeable world where people can vote with their viewing dollars, this is going to be a messy topic, but one that needs to be kept in public discourse.
We live in an interesting time, the internet has shrunk our world in ways that I never thought possible. It, and the platforms that utilize it, have made it possible to share, consume, and discuss media that I would have never come across in the pre-internet (or even early internet) days. The current world of social distancing and self-isolation would have been much more of a struggle if it wasn’t for the various media streaming services, online shopping, and social outlets that the internet provides.
There are vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips and platforms where artists can connect with their fans and a lot of the time it’s great… sometimes it’s not. Sometimes creators say or do deplorable things, and once this information is out in the world it’s not going away. Something I personally struggle with, and I know others do too, is when I find out about something awful an artist has done can I still in good conscience enjoy their content? Where should I draw the line and say that I can’t support this anymore?
A well-trodden place to start would be H.P. Lovecraft, and I’ll admit that I was fairly ignorant about the extent of Lovecraft’s racism until recently. Because of my love of horror and media, I’ll talk about it quite a bit at my day job and a colleague of mine asked to borrow one of my collections after we had both seen Color Out of Space (2019), and she wanted to see the source material.
She is a woman of color, and I did mention that the stories were written at a time where casual racism was more prevalent. When I lent her the giant tomb, I generally thought that Lovecraft’s racism was born out of his sheltered life and it came from a place of ignorance rather than outright malice and said as much when handing the book over. That night I thought that I should maybe do a little research to see if I was correct in my assumptions. I was not.
I was pretty horrified to find out just how terrible some of the vile he spit really was. I had heard that he was racist through podcasts and articles but it was always seriously downplayed as the creators were uncomfortable discussing this facet of an artist they loved. Despite how hate-fueled Lovecraft was, my colleague quite enjoyed the stories she read but made a point of thanking me for lending her the book because she wouldn’t have been able to support his legacy by spending money on it for herself. Is it okay to separate the art from the artist? Is it okay to support the art, but not the artist?
Another example of this would be Orson Scott Card who wrote Ender’s Game. I myself didn’t read this book in my formative years, I read it as an adult after I had many friends tell me that it was a book that was an essential part of them growing up. One person, in particular, went so far as to say that the themes of self-reliance and maturity changed his world view when he read it at twelve years old. It helped him see past the idea of being defined by his family and start questioning things rather than just accepting answers.
When I read the book, I didn’t know about Card’s A Changed Man: The Hypocrites of Homosexuality. The moment I saw this article I was blown away by the concept of someone who wrote of integrity, self-reflection, and personal responsibility be behind such bigotry. I can’t separate the man from the art, and it still bothers me that I supported him by purchasing his book.
Both Lovecraft and Card are lone creators, so it is a little bit easier to say I don’t want to support them. Much of Lovecraft’s works are in the public domain so even purchases I made of his writing don’t support him directly, but I still don’t feel good about it. Card, on the other hand, is still with us and still has control of the rights to Ender’s Game. I have no interest in supporting him through purchasing his works, and won’t do so.
His writing was, and is, very important to a lot of people, and his being awful doesn’t change what they got out of his writing. Just because I can’t separate the man from the art, doesn’t mean that these people have their experiences with the book negated. That being said, these are personal choices of mine not to support these specific creators, and where it gets more complicated is when there are groups of people involved, and being punished for an individual’s actions.
Another piece of this is the adaptations of these works. Not only has Lovecraft’s works been adapted directly but he has influenced generations of creators. The recently passed Stuart Gordon was one of the more prolific directors in regards to adapting Lovecraft’s works with Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), Castle Freak (1995), and Dagon (2001) under his belt. I have never seen nor read anything that would show that Gordon was any kind of bigot, but there are a lot of fans of these movies that were their introduction to Lovecraft.
In regards to the film Ender’s Game (2013), there was a call to boycott the film by the group Geeks OUT, a group that looks to empower and promote the queer geek community. Lionsgate Entertainment did release a statement about the boycott calling for a separation of Scott’s beliefs from the content of the movie. Should the art stand on its own, separate from the artist?
Victor Salva is a director of note in horror, largely due to Jeepers Creepers (2001), and the subsequent sequels. There are other movies of his that I enjoyed in the past specifically, The Nature of the Beast (1995) and Powder (1995). In 1988 Victor Salva was charged and convicted of sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old, and child pornography was found in his home, he completed his parole in ‘92. Here is a link to an article from the LA Times if you would like to read further, it was published in ‘95 a few days before Powder was released.
Salva has 2 projects currently in production as per IMDB, and in addition to directing, had writing credits on most of his films. Salva has said that the characters Lance Henriksen and Eric Roberts play in The Nature of the Beast are based on people he met in prison, so the movie would not exist without his arrest, conviction, and prison sentence. In a vacuum, the movie is a schlocky mystery but armed with the knowledge of Salva’s past, it takes on an even darker tone and authenticity. The above-linked article makes a point of including the head of Caravan Pictures, Roger Birnbaum, who produced Powder saying –
“I sympathize with the pain these people have gone through, but the man is trying to do good now,”
said Roger Birnbaum, head of Caravan Pictures, which made the film that is being released under Disney’s Hollywood Pictures banner.
“If he has something to contribute to society, and it happens to be in film, let him do that. The movie and the incident that occurred eight to 10 years ago are not related and it would be a shame if the movie was not allowed to stand on its own,” Birnbaum added. “A movie is not made by one person.”
I don’t agree with the above save for the statement “A movie is not made by one person.” I have zero interest in supporting Salva, but is it a reasonable expectation that actors/writers/film crews/production companies suffer due to one person’s involvement? Is it also reasonable to expect that the people involved with the productions knew who they were working with? Is it enough to plead ignorance?
What about John Lasseter stepping down amid alleged sexual misconduct allegations around the time Coco (2017) came out? He was never formally charged with anything, but there are numerous stories of him being overly familiar with the women he worked with. Would it be fair to boycott a movie based on allegations? Coco is an important movie in regards to representation, so do we overlook Lasseter’s involvement so we can focus on what the film shows the world?
Was his stepping down something Disney did to do the right thing or was it a marketing play during the fall out of Harvey Weinstein? Speaking of Weinstein, are all Miramax movies now off-limits from a moral standpoint? I say this as someone who is not in the film industry, but from the outside, it looked like if you wanted to have a career, you had to deal with the likes of Weinstein and others of his ilk. Are the people he worked with all guilty to a lesser degree for being compliant?
An American Werewolf in London (1981) is one of my all-time favorite movies. The dark humor, the creature effects, the setting, it’s one of the films I could watch over and over again. It was directed by John Landis who has an amazing body of hit movies under his belt, but he also is someone who broke child labor laws that lead to the deaths of actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen during the filming of his segment of The Twilight Zone (1983).
He was acquitted on charges of manslaughter, but there was an out of court settlement. In a generational twist, John Landis’ son Max Landis also has been accused of sexual assault and has tinged projects like Chronicle (2012) and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Is it okay to enjoy these films and shows knowing what these men have done? How about judging contributors based on who they support?
I have talked a lot about creators, but what about actors? While he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, Kevin Spacey has been charged with felony sexual assault, and more than 30 people have come forward with allegations. This was all enough to have him replaced in All the Money in the World (2017) and have production stop, then have him removed from House of Cards. Spacey is an Oscar winner and was a major part as to why I enjoyed movies like Se7en (1995) or American Beauty (1999), but I don’t know if I can watch them again, or if I do, enjoy them the same way knowing what I know now.
On the flip side of this, we have Johnny Depp who was accused of spousal abuse by Amber Heard in their divorce proceedings. The response to the accusations was strong and did some serious damage to Depp’s reputation, but then it was revealed that Heard had been abusing Depp. I don’t know enough about the situation to say that Depp is innocent of the allegations, but it definitely changes the narrative. Is it fair to change your viewing habits based on allegations? Is it fair to boycott a production based on a contributor’s actions?
In 1977 Roman Polanski pled guilty to and was convicted of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, Samantha Geimer, who was 13. He then fled to London on February 1st, 1978 to avoid his prison sentence and to this date, he has managed to avoid prison time. Polanski has 11 full-length movies made after 1979, with the likes of Walter Matthau, Harrison Ford, Hugh Grant, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp, Adrien Brody, Ewan McGregor, Jon Bernthal, Timothy Hutton, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly, and Eva Green.
He has a long list of supporters who cite his troubled past (the murder of his pregnant wife Sharron Tate, and time as a child in Krakow) as a way of, if not excusing, rationalizing his actions. Are all of these people who are famous and have influence in the industry guilty of supporting him just by agreeing to be in his films? There is a privilege of being able to only work on projects that you would want to, and work with people that you share values with, that a lot of working artists don’t have the luxury to take into consideration when they have bills to pay, and families to support. If a creator makes a choice to be in an industry to follow their dream, is this the world they have to “play ball” in to do the work that they are passionate about? There is also a piece in all of this on the quality or impact of the art; Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is an important movie, so does it get a pass?
As for my personal stance on a lot of this, to be completely honest, I struggle with it. Many call for a separation of art from the artist; but I feel that art does not exist in a vacuum, it is the product of a person’s life experiences seen through the lens of the time they created it. One of the biggest concerns that I have is ensuring that my consumption of content doesn’t support or promote the offending artist, but sometimes that has a cost of not supporting the other creators involved.
There are also films that I watch with a different lens, no matter what you think of John Landis, you can’t take away Rick Baker and his team’s accomplishments in An American Werewolf in London. So long as I can keep my support from the people I don’t want to support, and don’t facilitate making it okay for them to continue to act in ways that I find abominable, the better I feel.
Once something is released into the world, the creator loses a large piece of control in regards to how it is interpreted, so no matter what a monster they turn out to be, that doesn’t change how a piece affected someone. Orson Scott Card would probably hate that some of his readers discovered that they were a part of the LGBTQ community through the theme of self-reflection in Ender’s Game, but that is also something that he can never take from someone, no matter what he says or does.
There is a change that has been happening as of late, where discussions on some of the questions I ask are happening more often, along with consumers being more informed than ever. I hope this leads to the viewing public holding content creators to a higher standard of who they are willing to work with and holding offenders accountable for their actions.
I don’t have all the answers on this, I may be wrong about how I am thinking about some of this, but I think it should be a continuing conversation. The longer we live in a knowledgeable world where people can vote with their viewing dollars, this is going to be a messy topic, but one that needs to be kept in public discourse.