I loved Louis C.K. I idolized him and his standup and basically his entire body of work. And I had heard about his reputation for masturbating in front of women without their consent years ago. It was common knowledge in the Chicago comedy scene, so it was probably common knowledge in most facets of show business. And it wasn’t until his actions officially came out that I and many others who shared my knowledge put our feet down. That’s abhorrent. It’s one of the many abhorrent things that I have to reconcile; a straight, white man who has said insensitive garbage an innumerable number of times, who consciously kept myself ignorant of things that don’t directly affect me.
I probably can’t speak for every white man in America, but I will anyway: all this horrible shit was screaming at us an inch from our noses and we either ignored it, embraced it maniacally, or didn’t do enough. And now some of us act like we’re shocked, ask the world if we can still watch American Beauty (1999), and pretend like we’re all caught up now. Where the hell were we? Almost without exception, this stuff wasn’t even being hidden well. Some men are starting to see what’s really going on, but we still don’t get it.
There have been many articles, books, lectures, and so on provided by people whose voices we should be paying more attention to, people who need to be in more positions of power, who need to be listened to, who have a much, much higher understanding of humanity, empathy, and needed change. I’ve made it an active and personal undertaking to listen and self-educate by paying attention rather than asking anyone direct questions as they pop into my self-entitled mind. People of color, femme, trans, queer, disabled, there are female voices we should all be proactive about hearing if we want this reckoning today to lead to real change tomorrow.
So, how to change the system isn’t something I’m qualified to speak on. Safe avenues for consequences and retribution, systemically changing the industries from the inside out and outside in, supporting women and POC as they climb toward positions of power. Those are off the top of my head, but white men need to stand down, because people have been hurt by us for far, far, far too long.
With all that being said, I’ve been grappling with a question I think a lot of us have been asking as lovers of film. As aspiring screenwriters, filmmakers, actors, crew members, producers, as an aspiring artist in any art form, part of the process of improving is the process of learning what others have done and how you can push the form to new levels. So are we unable to enjoy, consume, or take from art that was created by someone we’ve learned is a piece of shit?
These stories are going to keep coming out, we need to embrace every single one, and we need to take it as far as we possibly can. Should we boycott every movie Harvey Weinstein produced? Sure! Every special Louis C.K. performed? Of course. Can we finally start punishing Casey Affleck? Yes, please. Every movie Kevin Spacey was in? Hm.
There is an argument to be made for everyone else involved in the movie, or their different levels of involvement. Where the work of Louis C.K. and Woody Allen are almost exclusively from their mind’s eye, Kevin Spacey could be considered a brushstroke, a prop in someone else’s vision. But (and putting aside the creepy correlation), is American Beauty (1999) off the hook as a culturally significant piece of art because Sam Mendes directed it and Alan Ball wrote it? I mean, if you want people to enjoy your work for years to come, your safest bet is to make damn well sure that you’re not working with bad people, right? Can you make 100% sure? You tell me, Hollywood! As far as I can tell, you haven’t even tried. In fact, the evidence that everyone knew and no one did anything is damning as all hell. So why not curse your movies into hell along with their reputation?
Can you still watch that movie? Sure you can. You can watch any movie ever made in a few clicks without anyone knowing you sat through it. If you can separate the work from the creator, if it’s part of your pursuit as an artist, whatever your personal reasoning, you can do whatever you want. Next time you wonder that, ask a mirror. That’s what I do. And when I really have to look at myself, I realize that I should be finding some new art to appreciate. Maybe from the perspective of a woman, or a person of color, or someone not cisgender, or at the very least, a movie that wasn’t created through the lens of a serial rapist, for god’s sake.
Here’s one more thing to consider: do you know where all those residual checks are going? When you buy, rent, or stream, keep in mind that you might still be lining the pockets of those you’re up in arms against. And lining pockets is not a good way to let someone know that they need to curl up and die.
But taking away their power AND their livelihood?! Now we’re getting somewhere. So the question isn’t, “Can you still watch that movie?”
The real question is: “Why would you?