Recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other celebrities have revealed the suppression of sexual assault victims in profitable industries. Undeniably, Weinstein and Spacey have been involved in countless groundbreaking films, but tangled around them are painful, disturbing accounts of abuse and harassment. It inevitably begs the question: Should we separate art from the artist?
Without an ounce of hesitation, the answer is an unshakeable no.
The argument often brought up is that the world would be lost without problematic artists—geniuses who revolutionize their prospective industries. Watch a romantic comedy without the influence of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall’s narrative elements. Dare to have young black comedians grow up without positive representation on The Cosby Show. Try to go to any club or frat party without hearing Chris Brown’s Look at Me Now playing on blast. Unfortunately, it seems that over time many artists are granted immunity as long as the art is considered valuable. So why did Weinstein’s artistic immunity fail this time?
Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, representatives of The Women’s Media Center, recently shed light on the matter. “It’s probably because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white and everybody knows them,” said Fonda. To Fonda’s point, Weinstein went after young actors like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow at the start of their careers, when they were vulnerable and unknown. Now more powerful and globally recognized, the media’s gaze came on them, and for once, it did not forsake them.
In sharp contrast, past allegations have been met with feigned ignorance or biased trust in the artist. When Mia Farrow filed the lawsuit that accused Woody Allen of sexually abusing his daughter, Dylan Farrow, his associates turned a blind eye, prompting the rest of Hollywood to follow suit. “It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away,” said Dylan Farrow in a 2014 public letter. Allen’s career continued to thrive and still does to this day. Similarly, Chris Brown’s music career post-assault has been supported by the media and celebrated by other powerful music moguls. In fact, his latest album, Heartbreak on a Full Moon, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts earlier this year.
While artists like Allen and Brown have walked away from their scandals with their careers intact, this most recent wave of allegations against powerful figures like Weinstein or Spacey appears to finally be having a considerable impact. Notably, Clerks director Kevin Smith, who owes his career to Weinstein, recently announced that he will donate residuals of their affiliated films to Women in Film, an organization that promotes gender equality in filmmaking. Smith announced this on his podcast as a gesture to incite change, “Hopefully that goes to people that get to make s**t without having to deal with some f***ing animal saying, ‘Here’s the price.”
It doesn’t matter the artistic medium. The separation of art and artist will only continue to normalize rape and abuse in all industries. Not to mention, the excuse that celebrities are afraid of hurting their career by speaking out is not valid anymore. The problem goes beyond preserving art and artist. We allow rapists and pedophiles to become glorified idols, who mock their victims and plant seeds for the next generation of artists to abuse without consequence. Instead, society should focus on art that does not serve to excuse abuse, finally allowing artists to create art without paying a sickening price.
By Stephanie Elmir