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There is Nothing Inevitable About an Accused Abuser’s Comeback

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | May 24, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | May 24, 2024 |


It was seeing James Franco that drove it all home.

After six years out of the public eye following a series of allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse, the disgraced actor made a public appearance at a party at the Cannes Film Festival. Franco was photographed smiling and hobnobbing with fellow industry figures at a Nespresso event. Vanity Fair reported that he was in Cannes with hopes to sell his newest film, a drama called The Razor’s Edge. He looked like any other movie star at a fancy shindig where the only thing people care about is your connections. Cannes has a reputation for sweeping aside abuse allegations in the name of ‘prizing art over the artist.’ Whatever artistic contribution Franco had to offer to the world remains to be seen, especially given that he allegedly used his position as a director and Jack of all trades to manipulate and hurt others.

At the same festival this year was Shia LaBeouf, also welcomed back onto the red carpet, albeit with a far larger platform. Following allegations from his ex-partner, singer FKA Twigs, that he physically and mentally abused her (and also killed some dogs), LaBeouf also went away for a while. He didn’t wait six years to return, however, but instead made a big deal about converting to Catholicism before being invited onto the set of the newest Francis Ford Coppola film. He stood at the top of the stairs at the Croisette where Megalopolis had its world premiere and received vast applause. Of course he did.

Both of these incidents were met with a general sense of ennui, the initial fury of their presence tempered by a weary familiarity. It’s not that we were surprised to see them. Frankly, I would have been more shocked if we’d gotten through the entirety of Cannes season without an accused abuser receiving a standing ovation. It’s practically tradition now. It was that pain of certainty that did me in. None of this startled me. There was a numbness to the spectacle, and that was what stung in the end: we’ve accepted all of these comebacks of accused abusers as inevitable and they’re not.

This doesn’t happen by accident. One doesn’t see these accusations be made then immediately think, ‘well, I’ll schedule in the comeback.’ It takes work to make this unfold, lots of planning and PR and careful navigation of a system that is already inclined to hold the door open. You invite an accused abuser to the most prestigious film festival on the planet because you’re making a decision to implicitly endorse that person as important, worthier of attention and forgiveness than whoever they have hurt. You put them in your movie because you’re confident the glitz of your production will overwhelm and journalists who would ask about your decision to hire a man accused of beating women (not that Coppola has a clean record on this front - google Victor Salva.) Fashion houses put out statements noting that they dressed you (as Armani did for LaBeouf and Franco) for the same reasons, and because they’re more concerned with the visibility of their designs than who wears them.

Then there’s the stuff we don’t see. Who is working behind the scenes to get Franco back onto sets and into positions of control over dozens of employees? LaBeouf was dropped by CAA when Twigs’ lawsuit was filed but how long before an agent decides they want their 15% of his return? As we’ve seen from the likes of Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, if you have enough money in your corner, you can twist things to fit whatever crooked narrative you want. It takes shockingly little for the press to fall in line if you offer enough exclusives. You don’t even have to be especially likeable or popular with the public. It’s not as though Shia LaBeouf was ever America’s sweetheart, or that people thought James Franco was a debonair hunk. I’m reminded of how Harvey Weinstein’s reputation pre-#MeToo was of a belligerent bully who treated everyone like crap. When you make enough people enough money, everything else becomes acceptable collateral damage.

It’s not just Franco and LaBeouf, of course. We could be here for several paragraphs listing how various figures who have faced credible accusations of assault and abuse suffered little to no consequences and went back to business as usual in no time. The doors were never fully closed for them, at least not for long. History has long proven that the entertainment world (among practically every other field) is built upon the exploitation of others and the vast cover-up of said behaviour. It’s allowed to happen because, hey, misogyny, but also because the structures of power have become reliant on maintaining a broken status quo. The increasing ludicrousness of this set-up, one where people bend over backwards to accommodate minor talents and troublemakers who are both a financial and creative hindrance, only further exposes itself with time. Is Shia LaBeouf a box office hit? A critical darling? A beloved figure among the industry? Even if he were any of these things, his comeback would still be repugnant, but the sheer lack of reasoning behind his red carpet return only further proves the delusions behind this complicit attitude.

And it keeps happening. I feel like I write a variant of this post once a month and have done so ever since the first Harvey Weinstein investigation. And every time, I have to fight the overwhelming urge to shrug my shoulders and accept that this is just what our society is like, no matter how much we fight for an alternative. I suppose that’s the desired effect, to so thoroughly numb your opposition that the phrase ‘well, it was inevitable’ becomes a part of their everyday lexicon. It’s not inevitable. The achingly manicured process of rehabilitation without justice and the further malignment of victims is not an accident. If these creeps have to be ritualistically humiliated into change then so be is. We should repeat it over and over again until it’s the norm: no piece of art or business deal is worth the damage and pain of those who are abused. Sorry Coppola, I don’t care how good Megalopolis is if the cost is the retraumatizing of FKA Twigs. I’m not sure why that stance is the exception rather than the rule.