Has the Movement Against Sexual Harassment Gone Too Far?

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This week: Has the movement against sexual harassment gone too far? Let us know by email or in the comments below.

The backlash has begun. In France this week, a group of 100 women, including actress Catherine Deneuve, denounced the #MeToo movement as restricting men’s sexual freedom and propagating a “hatred” of both men and sex. Meanwhile, some have noted that, without a jury trial or proof of myriad allegations against him, Kevin Spacey has been fired and in fact erased from Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, kicked off his Netflix hit House of Cards and snubbed by the SAG Awards.

Scott’s extreme reshoots (now the source of a Screen Actors Guild investigation after it became clear that Mark Wahlberg was paid significantly more than his female costar Michelle Williams) replace Spacey entirely with a different actor. And while that’s not possible with the whole of Spacey’s oeuvre, the question remains: When dozens of men are losing their careers over #MeToo, how do we approach their past work? Is it inappropriate to continue showing films like The Usual Suspects as classics given the revelations about their stars? And, conversely, can and should we really be dismissing these men — be they politicians, journalists, businesspeople or actors — none of whom have been convicted by a jury of their peers (though Spacey is being investigated by London police over assault allegations)?

The tendency in modern Western culture to separate the art from the artist if he is a man … is extremely strong.

Shelley Cobb, film professor at Universty of Southhampton

Some also wonder whether it’s fair to shun Spacey when men like Woody Allen — targets of prior allegations — are still getting deals with Amazon. Beyond that, as the #MeToo movement spreads, some have begun to question whether Al Franken’s alleged serial groping of unwilling women is really worth him resigning over. In other quarters, voters are making the call themselves, like in Alabama, where sexual assault allegations against candidate Roy Moore saw the first Democratic elected senator in the state in 25 years.

Of course, being fair and reasonable to the accused could be in the interests of anti-harassment campaigners too. If public opinion starts to shift and people start to think that the #MeToo movement has indeed gone too far, then it could risk a backlash. Alienating the public from the movement’s noble goals while substantive change has yet to be achieved outside of Hollywood could even be to the detriment of everyday (noncelebrity) women in the workplace in the long term.

So should we divide the men from their work? “The tendency in modern Western culture to separate the art from the artist if he is a man, and especially a man considered to be a genius or a great artist, is extremely strong,” says Shelley Cobb, a professor of film at the University of Southhampton. Case in point? Alfred Hitchcock.

“We know that [Alfred] Hitchcock treated Tippi Hedren in an abusive manner, and she’s been saying it for years. The importance of his films to both the development of Hollywood, scholarly theories of film authorship and his cultural significance cannot be reversed. What we can do though is watch them and contextualize them with our knowledge.”

While many have misgivings about Woody Allen, it doesn’t stop retrospectives of Annie Hall. Mel Gibson went down for blatant anti-Semitism and misogyny in 2006, and by 2016 he was winning Oscar nominations again. So if you’re really worried about never seeing Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby on film again, you may just have to wait a while.

But all those years in which actresses who refused Harvey Weinstein couldn’t get roles or make films that might have been amazing? Those we’ll never get back.

So what do you think? Has the movement against sexual harassment gone too far? Has #MeToo outgrown its purpose? Let us know by emailing thirdrail@ozy.com or by answering in the comments below.

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