Is it Too Easy to Forgive and Forget?

Cristina Florescu

Cristina is a bookworm, feminist, film junkie and foodie who likes to write about all of the above.

As we're all aware by now, the shocking Harvey Weinstein scandal and the accusations about different Hollywood celebrities surfacing since have been discussed in the media over and over again. #MeToo spread across the world to expose the harassment and abuse women face and many in Hollywood have come forward expressing their outrage or repenting for their quiet acknowledgement. However, a glaring question needs to be asked while the spotlight shines upon the issue. A recent article has highlighted the world's effortless ability to forget things that shouldn't be forgotten that easily. 

This article uses Johnny Depp’s situation as an example on how the industry is quick to forget a man’s history of abuse for the sake of art and money. It raises questions about the ethics of allowing Johnny Depp to be part of a beloved franchise after being accused of domestic abuse by his ex wife, the unfair treatment of women in relation to men, and Hollywood’s questionable ability to forgive and forget men in an unequal proportion to women and for far greater trespasses.

With this in mind I have to ask how do all these issues apply to our day to day lives? We read about actors like Johnny Depp, Michael Fassbender or Casey Affleck, who have been accused of abuse and haven’t even bothered to address it properly, or convicted abusers like Mel Gibson or Roman Polanski, who haven’t tried to atone or rebuild their image, yet still enjoy the benefits of a Hollywood career.  These men have continued to have acclaimed careers in spite of their abusive history, while their female counterparts often find themselves having to justify a consensual sex tape or nudes for years. Of course, we can brush it aside and say that it's the distant world of celebrity and that some of these accusations could be taken with a pinch of salt given all the crazy factors that come with money and fame. And that is a valid point. However, what does our eagerness to forgive and forget these famous faces say about the way we think about abuse and gender roles in our own society?

I believe that the way to make the traumatic experiences and the courage of these abused women who came forward matter, is by acknowledging that this is not just a problem that affects the distant, glamorous world of Hollywood. Sexual abuse and harassment happens in every industry and perhaps, even though it’s uncomfortable, we should raise some questions about how quick we are to find excuses for these men in power. Despite the shock and horror of many men in Hollywood at the ever-growing list of abusers, the reaction of women was very much horror, but not a lot of shock. So if you’re wondering why, here’s a mental exercise that will also help you see how this Hollywood conundrum is not just about Hollywood.

Replace Harvey Weinstein with a big company CEO or line manager.  As women, we’ve all heard or experienced a sleazy boss, who takes a tad too many liberties with their employees, yet everyone is scared to speak out because of his power and his ability to destroy a career. Much like in Weinstein’s case, everyone turns a blind eye. Replace Johnny Depp with your neighbour or friend’s partner who always seems to put her down at social gatherings and whose particularly raised voice you can hear sometimes at night. But he rides a motorcycle and has a charming smile, so surely he’s not capable of abuse! In a world where a lot of men confuse consent with sexual attraction, you can replace Kevin Spacey, Casey Affleck and Ed Westwick with every man you’ve met from when you were a teenager and throughout your life as an adult. The men who have groped you, made crass comments about you and were particularly touchy-feely in their flirting game. All those men who got away with it because it’s what guys do and undesired sexual attention comes with the job description when you’re woman.

The truth is, all these men didn’t do what they did because they’re in Hollywood and fame got to their heads, it is because they were men who grew up in a culture that makes this sort of behaviour part of masculinity. The money and the power were mere additions to their personality and cultural baggage that made them feel entitled to abusing their power in this way. And the truth is that we may scream and shout, and use hashtags and express our disdain, but until we acknowledge the deeper issue in this, we’ve made no progress. And the issue is that we allow this sort of behaviour to pass, whether it is by accepting micro-aggression like cat-calling and club groping,  by turning a blind eye to your friend’s possessive partner, or simply by being the consumer of a popular culture that supports abusers and alleged abusers. Whether or not we have an ethical duty as consumers to not put more money in their pockets by watching their films is something each person has to decide. But I think we should all question our ability to turn a blind eye to a questionable character just because we like their art.

At the end of the day, the artist and the person are two separate entities, but it is important that we hold the person accountable for despicable acts and recognise that these acts should make the production of their art more difficult. Because if we want a world where the CEO gets fired for sexual abuse, it is important to admit that men like Johnny Depp and Casey Affleck should at least have a harder time rebuilding their careers. At the end of the day the world of celebrity is something we are all exposed to and consume. So what sort of message does this immediate forgetfulness send in a world where we want a safer space for women and less abuse of power from men? Acknowledging that Johnny Depp’s actions and reactions to the accusations against him are questionable, or that Mel Gibson is a good director but a questionable human being will change the narrative of women who are scared and ashamed to confess their abuse because they know people will be quicker to judge them and forgive the aggressor, to a narrative where people who have abused their power face some sort of backlash. And that applies to Hollywood and to our own world.