Should we separate the art from alleged sexual abusers? | The Tylt
Should we separate the art from alleged sexual abusers?
In late 2017, Bryan Singer was fired as director of "Bohemian Rhapsody," a movie that has gone to become a box office hit and Oscar-nominated film. Around the same time, new sexual assault allegations have surfaced. Cesar Sanchez-Guzman accused of Singer of raping him in 2003. According to The Atlantic:
According to multiple sources, Fox had no idea that the Sanchez-Guzman lawsuit was coming when the studio fired Singer. Still, Sanchez-Guzman’s claims shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Almost from the moment his star began to rise, Singer, who is now 53, has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. These allegations were so well known that 4,000 students, faculty members, and alumni at the University of Southern California had signed a petition asking the school to take Singer’s name off one of its programs, the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies—which the school did immediately after Sanchez-Guzman filed his suit. As one prominent actor told us, “After the Harvey Weinstein news came out, everyone thought Bryan Singer would be next.”
Singer is just the most recent male in Hollywood accused of sexual assault. Bill Cosby, Bryan Singer, Casey Affleck, Nate Parker, R. Kelly, Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein are just a few of the powerful men in Hollywood who have been outed in recent years as sexual predators in Hollywood. The conversation about the sexual assault of women in Hollywood, and across society, is arguably more mobilized than ever. Some of these men's careers continue to flourish, others have been dented. As the list of famous men being outed as sexual predators continues to grow, skeptics are debating if we should separate the art from these artists or boycott the art too.
Some skeptics argue art has imitated real life. In the case of R. Kelly and Allen, their work reportedly details their sexual abuse. But in the case of Cosby or Parker, their best pieces of work aren't about them as artists. Many fans still argue "The Cosby Show" is a classic family sitcom which paved the way for other black family sitcoms, regardless of Cosby. Others argue the work is tainted and supporting the art is only enabling abusers. Still, some skeptics agree that these cases vary from artist to artist.
In 2017, Indiewire asked different critics if art should be made separate from the abusers. Here's what a couple said:
Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Hello Beautiful, Birth.Movies.Death, The Mary Sue I think this answer will vary from person to person, and I don’t necessarily think there is a wrong answer. For me, as hard as it is sometimes, I can separate the artist from his/her film. I do, however, think there is often a clear agenda an artist has when it comes to his/her work, which can influence the narrative they choose to present and their characterizations. But in the case of Weinstein and even Allen, the thought is always in the back of my head; What were the circumstances around the making the movie? What drew the actor to work with this person? But do I judge the film based off the filmmakers personal actions? No. Do I judge the filmmaker outside the film? Absolutely.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today The simple answer to the question is that the art should speak for itself. It is never that simple, however. Am I able to watch films by Roman Polanski or Woody Allen without considering their makers’ deeply problematic histories? Perhaps some can; I cannot, though since I grew up appreciating Woody Allen before his own scandals erupted, I have a harder time dismissing his pre-1990s work than I do all of Polanski’s movies, since the experience of watching them was part of my growth as a cinephile. And therein lies part of the problem: it is very hard to disassociate oneself from past pleasant memories, even when they become tainted for the most legitimate of reasons. Witness the difficulties faced by accusers, not only of public figures but also within families, when they come forward. No one likes to be forced to change their mind about someone.
Some agree you can separate the art from the artist... sometimes. It's unrealistic to constantly cancel collaborative art because of one bad seed. Hence, there are other ways to hold alleged abusers accountable... like prosecution.
Some argue art can't be separated from the artist, and that even though other artists may have collaborated on the project, the project should still be canceled.
Many argue supporting the art is supporting the artist.
Critics have pointed out that famous white men in Hollywood have gotten off the hook, more than artists of color, until very recently. Casey Affleck won an Oscar in 2017 following sexual assault allegations. But Nate Parker's film "The Birth of Nation" tanked in 2016, and his career was ruined after rape allegations from the late '90s resurfaced.
Boycotting art is a complex situation for some people. But supporters believe if you boycott one sexual abuser, you should boycott them all—even if you originally liked the artist.