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Performers or perpetrators? Celebs weigh-in on the debate

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations against several Hollywood biggies, After Hrs asks if artistes can be viewed separately from their wrongdoings

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(Clockwise from top left) Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Kevin Spacey, Lena Headey, Kate Beckinsale and Harvey Weinstein
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Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, James Toback, Ben Affleck and a number of other names can no longer be taken as just great entertainers or artistes. In October, Weinstein was accused of rape, sexual assault and harassment by a number of women, including Angelina Jolie, Lena Headey, Kate Beckinsale, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, etc. The years of reputation as the co-founder of Miramax and producer of Pulp Fiction; Sex, Lies, and Video Tapes, Shakespeare in Love, etc came to nought. 

He has been fired from the company, slapped with a lifetime ban from the Producers Guild of America, and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 

The allegation opened up a Pandora’s Box. More murk underlying all that Hollywood glitz and glam has surfaced. Kevin Spacey was accused by actor Anthony Rapp of sexual misconduct. It didn’t take long for Netflix to sever all ties with Spacey — pulling his show House of Cards off air after its sixth season and scrapping a film starring the American Beauty actor. Spacey has also been stripped of the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award.

While all these are the latest occurrences, who can forget Roman Polanski? The Oscar-winning director pleaded guilty to charges of statutorily raping a 13-year-old girl in 1979. One couldn’t get over the fact that someone who gave the world great films like Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and many others, should be embroiled in something as sinister. There are protests going on against the Cinémathèque Française, a French film organisation, for hosting a retrospective of Polanski’s films as a celebration of his career. Even though they have fallen from grace, one cannot forget or overlook their talent and great works. So, is it possible to see them only as entertainers or do their misdeeds overshadow it all? Celebs give their take...

Apurva Asrani, Writer

It is heartbreaking for fans to see their idol fall from grace. But I believe it’s also important to separate the art from the artiste. Art is a reflection of the times we live in, it has a divine quality to it because it can transform society. Michael Jackson may have personally fallen from grace, but his song Black or White is an important document against racism. It would serve humanity better to see the art as bigger than the artist. Kevin Spacey has just been accused of something as terrible as Paedophilia. It’s understandable if people don’t want to felicitate him till thorough investigations take place. But I am also of the opinion that an accusation is not the same as a conviction. So let’s wait for the law to take its course. 

Alankrita Shrivastava, Filmmaker

One can’t excuse anyone’s misconduct because they are great artistes. Their misconduct doesn’t take away from their contribution to the arts, but great art can’t be a cover-up for that. An artiste has to be held accountable for his or her actions which are wrong on humanitarian grounds. While it becomes very difficult for people who are engaging with that art, at the same time, that artiste can’t be given opportunities to always be in a situation where more such events might occur. You can’t turn around and say he’s a great artiste, so it doesn’t matter. It does matter because you are playing with people’s lives.

It’s also very typical of the situation of the inequality that comes because of the power structure. I feel it’s high time the focus is placed on the perpetrators of the crime. Why is it that whether it’s professional or social ostracisation, it only happens to the person who is the victim? The situation is just loaded against the victim, as she is labelled a troublemaker and stands to lose her career if she speaks out. It’s how this boys’ locker room sort of situation operates. In any field, men do not call out other men. It’s the men working alongside these people, who know what their male colleague is up to, who are the enablers. The spotlight should be on this male bonding thing which encourages this behaviour and normalises it. I feel that in the entertainment industry, you need a body where women can go and file a complaint, where they will be believed, trusted and heard. Also, in India, our content is very telling of our mentality. The kind of cinema we see that normalises harassment as a form of love and courtship, I have a serious problem with that. As content creators, we are all enablers when we are building a society where women can’t speak up. So we are all responsible for that.

Shruti Seth, Model-Actress

It’s a very grey area. Obviously, it is going to impact the way you view them now. You cannot say that a person with a questionable character cannot be an artiste because they clearly are very talented. No matter how great they are as performers, at the back of my mind, I think about what they have done. As a viewer, it becomes difficult to separate the two and I think that’s how it should be. 

They cannot say, ‘I’m a great actor, therefore, it’s okay if I’m a wife beater or an assaulter. Ignore all the bad things and pay attention to only my talent’. It can’t work like that. Naturally, your deeds as a real person will always creep into your profession. 

Even if it doesn’t change their performance as such, it does change the way we see them. There has to be accountability. 

Otherwise, people will never be wary of what they do if there are no consequences. I won’t go and burn all his film DVDs and I don’t know if I will be proactively not watching his films, but I will think twice before I do watch them. It has definitely changed something in me and my interest in his art and career has definitely dwindled. Only in our country do we allow criminals to become politicians without any consequences. What happened to Weinstein or Spacey needs to start happening here. They can’t think their career and positions will always be safe, so they can do whatever they want.

Sapna Bhavnani, Hairstylist

I’ve anyway never admired people to the extent of putting them on a pedestal and worshipping them. They are actors who are paid well for doing a job and are not really changing the world. But, the activist in me will most definitely kick in. I could not see their talent before their abuse for sure. There’s no way I can see Kevin or Dustin Hoffman as an artiste after this. It’s a power thing; when people become big, they think they have more power than women and men and they bring it out in the form of sexual harassment. It has nothing to do with sexual needs but the assertion of power. I think it’s fantastic that Hollywood is taking steps like cancelling entire productions because this is their way of saying that what they did is not acceptable no matter how powerful they are. In America, they are really good with taking action. This is something that needs to happen in our country. Imagine, if women in the Indian fashion industry or Bollywood came out talking like that about the men, the industries would be destroyed. 

Here, we have a godlike complex for our actors or cricketers and that needs to be shattered. No one talks about  sexual predators or how corrupt they are; they go scot-free about everything. Our world needs to get the women together and do something this drastic.

Fahad Samar, Author

I think there is no ambiguity in my mind about the morality of such a situation. There has to be a responsibility, more so when somebody is in a position of power, authority, or seniority. They have to face ramification and penalty of violating somebody’s trust, especially when they are a senior figure. I remember being very shocked when Meryl Streep gave a standing ovation to Roman Polanski for winning the Oscar for The Pianist. While we all salute the artistry and genius of people like Polanski and Spacey, we cannot divorce their moral corruption from their artistic achievements. I think, with great power comes great responsibility. This should be applicable to everybody, in all fields of life, and the sooner we learn the lesson, the better it will be.

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