There was something almost painfully inevitable about it. This week, the trades reported that the upcoming John Wick origin series The Continental, set to premiere on Starz, will star none other than Mel Gibson. Yup. That Mel Gibson. The guy who called Winona Ryder an ‘oven dodger,’ the man who claimed during a drunken rant that ‘the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,’ the abhorrent little creep who told his ex-partner and the mother of one of his children that ‘if you get raped by a pack of n******, it will be your fault.’ You know, that racist. He’s back. Again. What was that you said about cancel culture?
Gibson never truly went away after audio of his misogynistic and anti-Semitic screed against a police officer went viral. He was quickly sent on the apology tour and a lot of fuss was made about how Gibson was working ‘behind the scenes’ to rectify his great errors. Major celebrities like Jodie Foster jumped to his defense (she later cast him in a movie, The Beaver, which underperformed commercially.) Gibson was back on top, but then he just couldn’t stop being a bigoted little sh*t rag. And so the cycle of apologies began anew. That wasn’t who he really was, we were told. Don’t we all say things we don’t mean when we’re drunk? Sure, Gibson reportedly kept using the term ‘oven dodger’ to describe Jewish people, often to their faces, and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas claimed he endlessly spouted such slurs while claiming that the Torah made reference to the sacrifice of Christian babies. But that’s water under the bridge, right? Mere blips on the radar. It didn’t stop Gibson from getting several Oscar nominations in 2017. It hasn’t stopped him from consistently working since then.
Every time an announcement is made about a new project to star or be directed by Gibson, we engage in another round of fury and bafflement. How the hell does this keep happening? Surely even all of the smarmy bad-faith contrarians who whine about the ills of cancel culture can see that maybe it’s not the best idea to keep giving money to a noted racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite? These aren’t mere rumors either. We have documentation! F**ktons of it! None of this is secret nor has anyone really tried to hide it.
I wonder what kind of fans Gibson attracts (you know, aside from Holocaust deniers). Do they see his nastiness as some sort of provocation, a daring act in the face of the ‘PC Police’? Is he a ‘bad boy’ to them, an a-hole rogue who has enough charm to distract from the slurs? Is it easier to pretend reality doesn’t exist because Gibson now mostly seems to play douchebags and bad guys? The sad truth is that a lot of people just don’t care about any of it.
I truly don’t think it’s anything more complicated than that. People don’t care that Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite. Rather, to be more specific, the people who make all of the industry decisions don’t care. They can make a big show over how they’re oh-so-forgiving or know the ‘real’ Gibson or prize the work over the man, but the end result is the same: a total lack of empathy and a willingness to perpetuate bigotry through empowering the bullies. A lot of viewers and critics don’t care either. They can justify their apathy by claiming that the issue just isn’t their problem, or they simply want to consume the films without having to think about the icky stuff on the side. Besides, isn’t the industry full of people who have said or done things just as bad as Gibson? Roman Polanski’s still making films and winning awards. Woody Allen’s got a whole army of defenders despite 30 or so years of the allegations made by his daughter being public knowledge. Bryan Singer isn’t in jail. This is just how Hollywood works, right? Separate the art from the artist then deal with the allegations later.
Harvey Weinstein is currently in jail. He’s serving a 22-year sentence after being found guilty of rape, and he will soon face trial once more in Los Angeles on separate charges of assault and rape. The fall of the notorious producer was seen as a symbol of a paradigm shift in not only the film industry but society in general. No longer will we tolerate the open secret of abuse. Change is coming. Except it didn’t. At least not as much as we desperately needed. Weinstein faced repercussions and that was that for Hollywood. What else did they need to do? I’m convinced that far too many people decided that Weinstein’s punishment was proof enough that they’d fixed the problem. Not only that but it became the new benchmark for abuse. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen abusive male celebrities be discussed with the dismissive insistence that what they did ‘wasn’t as bad as Weinstein’ so it’s OK, somehow. Unless you’re a serial predator with three or more decades of violence under your belt, it’s fine. You can’t be all that nasty, right?
This rule is obviously variable (hello, Bryan Singer) but I think it helps to explain some of the Gibson defenses, even though his abuses took place many years before #MeToo unfolded. There is always a way for the most abhorrent misdeeds and cruelty to be euphemized as ‘not that bad.’ For an industry that deals in telling our stories, the entertainment world is shockingly unconcerned with emotion. Such things are a mere nuisance to the real business of making money and keeping your friends in the upper echelons of power. Mel Gibson is maybe the most grotesque example of this, but he is a mere symptom of the deeper rot at the heart of this issue. That doesn’t make his omnipresence any easier to deal with, of course. The most at-risk and marginalized are always forced to play second fiddle to the brute who makes money.
A friend of mine once joked that the only way to truly cancel Mel Gibson would be if he literally murdered someone. Alas, they forgot the old joke: In Hollywood, if you kill somebody, you don’t go to jail. You just pay a fine.
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