Casey Affleck’s PR is impeccable. The ruthless efficiency with which he and his team campaigned for his Best Actor Oscar should not be downplayed. He was on every awards season round-table. He got countless glowing profiles that played up how he has spent years as a criminally underrated supporting player but now has his time to shine. He guest hosted SNL. He had his big brother and Matt Damon out shaking the right hands on his behalf. It surprised nobody when he swept the season and took home the big award, although not even the best publicists in town could make the elephant in the room go away. They couldn’t make Brie Larson clap for him.
It’s been close to 18 months since Affleck won his Oscar, and as any savvy PR would instruct, he decided to lay low as #MeToo and #TimesUp went into full force. Nobody in the industry needed reminding that the biggest exposure of systemic abuse and harassment in entertainment came mere months after their latest Best Actor winner was someone with sexual harassment allegations to his name. They certainly didn’t need to confront how complicit everyone was in sweeping those messy conversations under the rug. It was seldom brought up in relation to Affleck, at least not directly, and when it was it was done with such obvious adherence to his team’s demands. Nobody wanted to lose access to the inevitable king of the Oscar season, so everyone behaved. Even as the allegations garnered further scrutiny and Affleck was lumped into those wider #MeToo conversations, his team kept a tight lid on proceedings. He dropped out of handing out the Best Actress Oscar this year, but the Deadline ‘source’ still had to emphasize how generous Affleck was to make such a choice and how sad it was that such occasions couldn’t just focus on the work.
Affleck recently gave a detailed interview to the Associated Press where, for the first time he fully acknowledged the allegations and gave what many considered to be a fully penitent apology. Personally, I didn’t buy it. Call me cynical but all I saw was further PR at work, the same PR that made him so untouchable during that Oscar campaign. Every paragraph read like it had been written for him to memorize and say with just the right inflection of understanding. The word choices were achingly precise. It wasn’t harassment: It was ‘unprofessional’ behaviour.
Now, Affleck has signed on to produce Fencer, and will also play a small supporting role. The film will focus on a woman who tries to make the U.S. Olympic fencing team, and will be directed by Jasmine McGlade. So, not only does Affleck’s ‘comeback’ give him that glow of humility, he does it by putting his clout behind women in the industry.
I can’t pretend I’m not hopelessly cynical about all this. I would love to believe Affleck. I really would. Believe it or not, being pessimistic is exhausting but it’s a disheartening necessity in this field, now more than ever as #MeToo undergoes a bullshit ‘backlash’. Yet I can’t shake everything I know about this and how Affleck has consistently wielded his professional clout for his own good, at the expense of true self-reflection. It seems mightily convenient that he had his mea culpa after winning his Oscar, after months of making sure his name was appropriately spotless and ensuring plenty of journalists cleaned it up.
But clearly I’m in a minority here. Plenty of journalists thought his apology was great, one of the better celeb apologies we’ve heard in recent years. I know many who are revved up for his new movie and even more who appreciate him getting behind a woman film-maker. Clearly, to the industry he calls home, he has done the work he needed to do. When I tweeted my feelings about that apology, I had tons of people, men and women alike, shit on me as some harpy shrew who couldn’t get over myself. Then again, they were saying that when I was talking about this during his Oscar campaign, so full circle, I guess.
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