Why you should care
The Italian actress/director shows how glass houses and stone throwing still don’t go together.
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In “Gotcha” parlance, the recent revelation that Asia Argento — Italian actress and director, daughter of horror film great Dario and early adopter of anti–sexual assault actions #MeToo and #TimesUp — paid off a 17-year-old sexual-assault accuser is a pretty big deal. Falling victim to her own appetites and now the social efforts to punish those appetites after they crossed the lines of propriety, the now-42-year-old Argento’s cutting of a $380,000 check for pain and suffering endured by an underage actor on a film set is damning in the extreme.
Which is to say, the accuser, 22-year-old Jimmy Bennett, is now front and center to one of the strangest turnarounds in the quickly shifting sands of sexual mores. Bennett’s claim that a hotel meeting, big-upped via Argento’s Instagram posts, devolved into apparently unwanted fellatio and intercourse is, to put it mildly, complex.
While Argento’s own efforts to bring her rapist — in her case, Harvey Weinstein — to justice have helped spotlight an epidemic of men both in and out of power behaving badly, she sits in uncharted territory. On the one hand, it’s not uncommon for those who are abused to become abusers. On the other, it is relatively rare to have such a public victim also be a perpetrator.
Any false equivalency to paint her as the same as her much more powerful abuser, [Harvey] Weinstein, is morning trash.
Writer/producer Danny Acosta
”The coin of the realm in Hollywood,” says Berlin-based documentary filmmaker Manuel Liebeskind, “is power, and this should never be forgotten: People do what they can get away with doing.” Months of head-shaking moments have brought about the realization that people with what legal professionals call “exposure” could be felled by the obvious. And in Bennett’s case, maybe not so obvious.
According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, which broke the story over the weekend, Bennett initially asked Argento for $3.5 million in damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, along with lost wages, assault and battery. In the years before the May 9, 2013, incident, Bennett had made more than $2.7 million, but his income dropped to about $60,000 a year afterwards, according to his attorney. While it’s clear that Bennett was having money troubles and also had leveled misappropriation of funds allegations against his parents — a sadly all-too-common accusation by former child actors — it’s also clear that Argento had promised him a movie role that never materialized, and he was under California’s legal age of consent when the sex occurred.
In a statement Tuesday, Argento denied “any sexual relationship with Bennett,” whom she said made an “exorbitant request of money” because of his financial woes. Argento said her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain — who committed suicide in June — facilitated the payment to help Bennett out at a difficult time.
Based on giddy social media interactions, the pair had a mother-son relationship almost in character from the 2004 film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. In the film, based on literary fraud JT Leroy’s book, Argento plays a drug-addict mother who pimps her soon-to-be assaulted son out as her daughter.
To Argento’s credit, though, she negotiated a payment to Bennett and did not bind him to a nondisclosure agreement, which allowed him to do what he’s done: tell his story. This is an eventuality Argento had to know was coming. And while Rose McGowan, another Weinstein survivor and driver of the #MeToo moment, has, along with other voices, put some distance between Argento and the movement in total, her claims of being heartbroken resonate ahead of both Weinstein’s trial and Bill Cosby’s sentencing next month.
“Any false equivalency to paint her as the same as her much more powerful abuser, [Harvey] Weinstein is morning trash and should not bury the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and dignity in public spaces both professionally and personally,” says producer Danny Acosta.
Regardless of what it should or will do, one thing is sadly clear: Argento’s actions offer aid, comfort and cover for the sort of silent Weinstein contingent claiming that somewhat consensual sex is not that big a deal. But this is 2018, and the news frenzy around the #TimesUp bell tolling for Argento indicates that her movement remains pretty damn strong.
This story has been updated to reflect Argento’s response.