BY ISABELLE HORE-THORBURN
It’s been a big year (already) for bad people making good films, and the most recent Oscars was the locus of that tension. The sad poetics of Brie Larson awarding Casey Affleck his Oscar award jarringly articulated the strange hypocrisy of Hollywood’s obsession with sexual violence as a plot device and its inability (or unwillingness) to combat it as an industry problem. It’s not only film executives, but people at every level of the industry (Meryl Streep!) who ignore the crimes and behaviour of men like Bernado Bertolucci and Roman Polanski; men who abuse their power to intimidate, degrade and violate their female colleagues.
The fact that these individuals continue to be celebrated and rewarded sends an unsettling message to women in cinema, namely that the art created by their aggressor is of more value to the Academy than their own safety. Broadly speaking, it seems that Hollywood continually justifies the separation of the art from the artist; to try to find a work that is untainted by sexual violence in a patriarchal society would be futile. Indeed, it would vastly limit the pool of Oscar contenders to do so.
This argument is emboldened by Kant’s aesthetic theory, and subsequent art movements like aestheticism and formalism. In his essay Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research, Noel Carroll identifies the “effective moratorium on ethical criticism in philosophical theories of art”. This moratorium is particularly helpful if you want the art that you make to be lauded by the Academy, but you also want to sexually harass people in the process of creating it. It is interesting, though perhaps not surprising, that this logic only extends to straight white men. The reception of African American film maker Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation was framed as an explicitly moral issue – critics talked about whether or not they would go to see it because of rape allegations leveled against the director in 1999. The crime of the artist does not seem to be collapsed with the art for white filmmakers – Blue Jasmine is a discrete work that is critically acclaimed because of Cate Blanchett’s incredible performance, regardless of whether the film’s director Woody Allen sexually abused his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.
As a feminist, or even as a human being, it can be difficult to evaluate the implications of the art that you choose to consume, and how you should consume cinema in “good” conscience. This week on Agenda, we spoke to writer and film critic Lauren Carroll Harris, who has written extensively on Screen Australia’s gender policy. She explained that the film industry’s pervasive sexism is not simply a question of consumption. In an article for The Guardian last year, she noted:
“The Australian film industry is government subsidised. That means policy can be enacted right now to correct gender discrimination – and it is fully within the remit of Screen Australia to only fund projects that employ women in key creative positions equally”.
Part of addressing the rampant sexism in cinema is to correct the gender imbalance at all levels of the film industry. As Lauren explained, this cannot only happen through the strategic consumption of films, but has to also come from pressure on governments to implement “mandatory quotas, not optional targets, to ensure that male-dominated projects do not automatically receive the majority of public funding”.
Beyond policy changes, perhaps we should stop validating those institutions that would protect the Casey Afflecks of the industry and take heed of Solange to:
“create your own committees, build your own institutions, give your friends awards, award yourself, and be the gold you wanna hold my g’s”
— solange knowles (@solangeknowles) February 13, 2017