Casey Affleck's Sexual Harassment Allegations: Why You Should Not Separate Private and Public

Casey Affleck, the younger, talented brother of Hollywood A-lister Ben and childhood friend of Matt Damon, is most likely to win this year’s Academy Award for Best Actor. His performance in Manchester by the Sea alongside Michelle Williams has already earned him a Golden Globe and several other accolades.

The Bostonian has always been reluctant to put him under the spotlight. However, an old, settled controversy is resurfacing now that the actor has been nominated for the Oscar, after his first nominee in 2007 as Best Supporting Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Two female colleagues on the set of the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here directed by Affleck accused him of sexual harassment and creating an uncomfortable work environment. Both producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka filed a lawsuit against the actor, at the time brother-in-law of the protagonist of the project Joaquin Phoenix.

Gorka stated Affleck crawled in her bed while she was sleeping at the time him and Phoenix were hosting the crew at their own apartment in New York. According to her public complaint, “When she woke up, Affleck was curled up next to her in the bed wearing only his underwear and t-shirt. He had his arm around her, was caressing her back, his face was within inches of hers and his breath reeked of alcohol”.

In addition to these allegations, White claimed Affleck referred to women as “cows”, discussed his sexual encounters and instructed a crew member to show his penis to White, despite her objections.

Trial was averted as the actor and the two women settled in 2010, after Affleck denied the wrongdoings. It is impossible to know at the moment whether such allegations are well-founded and to disclose the terms of the agreement between the two parts as both the plaintiffs and the defendant refused to talk about the incident.

You may think that such a dark stain on Affleck’s immaculate public behavior will just not go away easily, possibly jeopardizing the actor’s rising career and race for the Academy Awards. Think again.
 Unlike some other public figures being accused of misogynist conduct, sexual harassment or worse, Affleck’s star is shining like never before. From Bill Cosby to The Birth of a Nation’s Nate Parker and last but not least UK journalist Piers Morgan’s mocking comments about Women’s March, costing him public boycott on social media from actor Ewan McGregor (who, anyway, played the protagonist in The Ghost Writer by Roman Polanski, convicted for sexual abuse on a 13-year-old girl in 1977).

It is undeniable, though, that comparing Affleck to a sexual assaulter would mean going beyond the pale as his offense is nowhere near any case of the like.

Nonetheless, if accusations against Affleck proved to be true - and we may never know - some people might still argue that his private life and his career are two different matters altogether.

In his article ‘The Campaign to Discredit Casey Affleck Failed—He’ll Now Win the Oscar’, Hollywood hack Jeffrey Wells wrote: “The lawsuits were deep-sixed when Affleck agreed to cough up an undisclosed sum. That didn’t mean he was guilty of anything; it meant that he’d decided that paying the women off would be the fastest, least problematic resolution”.

Despite the alleged crime itself and Affleck’s brilliant performance in the film by Kenneth Lonergan, it is not that simple to separate a person from his or her stage persona.

If confirmed, Affleck’s conduct on that set would not be a private issue. On the contrary, he was accused of having created a hostile working environment, hence bringing his behavior into the public sphere. His is not different from the many, many cases of sexual harassment in campuses and workplaces. When famous people make their work environment threatening in any way to their coworkers with their private conduct, they automatically trespass the fine line between personal and universal. They enter the public realm.

Would it be acceptable to let Hollywood celebrate him, then? It does not seem that unlikely in a world where a “pussy-grabber” becomes President of the United States.

Affleck’s controversy is thorny, yet definitely buried in the past. That does not mean, however, that we should accept the separation of the private and publics spheres as a dogma when deep discomfort, as in this case, comes along.