Lady Problems: The Many-Tiered Layers Within Casey Affleck’s ‘Dark Secret’

Plus: The betrayal of Kathleen Kennedy

Lady Problems is a weekly column that looks at how the entertainment industry — and its corresponding culture and constituents — is treating women in a given week. (Hint: It will almost always be “poorly.”) Every Thursday we’ll review the week's most significant woman-centric conflicts, then provide a brilliant solution to each problem that nobody in Hollywood will ever listen to or enforce.

The Lady Problem: In a long piece in the Daily Beast this week, Amy Zimmerman explores the “dark secret” of one Casey Affleck. The secret is not that Affleck is really just an extremely basic white man who has propelled to a wobbly sort of stardom both based on and in spite of his last name, but rather, like many of his famous, extremely basic white male peers (Depp, Polanski, Allen, Singer, et al.), that Affleck has buried a series of sexual assault allegations and gone on to have a successful career.

Zimmerman unpacks the allegations — coming from two separate women — in great detail (I recommend reading the piece in full). To summarize: The first alleged victim, producer Amanda White, accused Affleck of a series of incidents. First, she claimed he “ordered a crew member to take off his pants and show White his penis — even after she vehemently objected” on the set of I'm Still Here. She also claimed that Affleck “repeatedly referred to women as ‘cows,’ and recounted his sexual exploits with reckless abandon.” Also, as Zimmerman details, “White recalled Affleck asking her ‘Isn’t it about time you get pregnant?’ once he learned her age, and suggesting that she and a male crew member reproduce.”

White also described an incident where she was “prevented from returning to her bedroom during shooting, because Affleck and [Joaquin] Phoenix had locked themselves in her room with two women where they had sex with them (Affleck was married to and had two children with Phoenix’s sister, Summer, at the time — though the couple recently split).” White alleged that “Affleck attempted to manipulate her into sharing a hotel room with him,” and “when she resisted, he grabbed her threateningly and attempted to scare her into submission.” Affleck “then allegedly proceeded to send White abusive text messages, calling her ‘profane names’ for refusing to stay with him.”

Magdalena Gorka, the film’s director of photography, described the way Affleck treated her on the film set as “the most traumatizing of her career.” According to Gorka — who Zimmerman explains was, at the time, the only woman actively working on the film — Affleck and other members of the production team “openly talked about engaging in sexual activities with her, and jokingly suggested that she have sex with the camera assistant, a good friend of Affleck's.” One night, Gorka alleged, “she awoke in the middle of the night to find Affleck ... curled up next to her in the bed wearing only his underwear and a 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. ... Unaware of how long Affleck had been there or whether or not he had touched her while she slept, Gorka said she was ‘shocked and repulsed.’ When she ordered Affleck out of bed, he allegedly responded, ‘Why?’ to which she replied, ‘Because you are married and you are my boss.’ Affleck then allegedly asked if she was ‘sure,’ and when Gorka remained resolute, she claimed Affleck ‘left and slammed the door in anger.’” Gorka then quit the project, but when she was having trouble finding work months later she reluctantly returned, only to be subject to “a nearly daily barrage of sexual comments, innuendo, and unwelcome advances by crew members, within the presence and with the active encouragement of Affleck.”

As Zimmerman explains, these cases — both of which were settled privately — have done nothing to temper Affleck’s rise to stardom. The disconnect seems especially disturbing now, as he approaches a likely Oscar nom for Manchester by the Sea and has offered not even a show of remorse, only responding briefly and defensively to the allegations. “Nearly 2,000 words into [Affleck's recent Variety] profile, there’s a brief mention of sexual harassment,” writes Zimmerman. “Asked to comment on two sexual-harassment suits (here and here) that were brought against him by women who worked on I’m Still Here, Affleck responds, ‘People say whatever they want. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond. ... I guess people think if you're well-known, it's perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don't know why that is. But it shouldn't be, because everybody has families and lives.’”

Most unsettlingly, the press has all but exempted him of guilt, even as they crucified Nate Parker for a parallel accusation. (As Zimmerman notes, race plays a large part in this.) “We can’t re-try either of these cases; given the facts that we have, journalists and filmgoers can reach their own conclusions of guilt or innocence. But readers should be given this opportunity. There’s no reason why the details of White and Gorka’s suits ... shouldn’t be added as a crucial caveat in fawning profiles and glowing reviews. ... Audiences have historically stood by men who have been accused of harassment, sexual assault, and abuse. But by selectively choosing which stars to put through the wringer, the media becomes complicit in this cycle of easy forgiveness and celebrity-related amnesia.”

The Solution: There are at least three tiers of guilty parties inherent in this Lady Problem. The first, the obvious, is Casey Affleck. According to The Wrap, Affleck's PR team is already “mobilizing” to defend him against the surfacing of these sexual-assault accusations and has successfully gotten another Daily Beast reporter to take down a tweet sharing the story and kept the rest of the campaign “rolling on flawlessly.” Though we have no way of knowing for sure if he’s innocent or guilty, the stacks of similar-sounding allegations here certainly don't paint a glowing portrait of this dude. At very best, Casey Affleck sounds like he's a fucking dick to women. For the crime of “at very best, sounding like a fucking dick to women,” I sentence Casey Affleck to 12 years of parking people’s cars in Harvard Yard.

The second guilty party is the news outlets that cover Casey and write things like, “Affleck can come across like an aloof graduate student, peppering a conversation with his own questions.” Remember last week’s screed about how we must beat on against the sexist/racist/homophobic/jerk-off-GIF cultural current, borne back ceaselessly into the even more stupidly fucking sexist past? Here's the perfect opportunity. Don't let your mom wax poetically about Manchester by the Sea's nuanced handling of the expectations of masculinity without reminding her that Casey Affleck tried to force his female employees to fuck him and his friends. You and your roommate can still watch Good Will Hunting on cable at 4 a.m., albeit with the new knowledge that Casey Affleck was probably watching Minnie Driver change during filming or some similarly creepy shit. Tweet at Variety and let them know to ask the more difficult questions next time, i.e., “Casey, that's not really an answer, do you want to try actually answering that question this time, or?”

The third guilty party is Ben Affleck, who is a crap older brother if you ask me. Ben was too busy vaping in his car to teach Casey to respect women!!!! Ben's punishment is to give me his vape.

The Lady Problem: Kathleen Kennedy, the Grand Czar of Star Wars, answered a question from Variety (ah, we meet again, Variety) about hiring female directors for the franchise as follows: “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do Star Wars, they’re set up for success. They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience,” she said. “We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right.”

In other words, Kennedy is gonna just wait for a female director to pull herself up by her adorable li'l bootstraps, all the way to the tippy-top, before hiring her. Which makes total sense, because that's definitely a story with precedent. Just think of all those utterly unknown female directors who started at the bottom and, just years later, sat at the helm of a $150 million blockbuster. Not to mention that this is exactly how Hollywood treats male directors! They spend years earning their opportunities and waiting patiently for their turn, chugging along like old-timey trains, putting in decades of hard labor before they make it to the station! Oh, wait.

As Women and Hollywood's Casey Cipriani lovingly reminds us, “There’s Star Wars Episode 9 director Colin Trevorrow, who got the $150 million Jurassic World gig after making Safety Not Guaranteed for $750,000. Gareth Edwards was offered the $160 million Godzilla after he made Monsters with a budget of $500,000. Or Marc Webb of The Amazing Spiderman, who made that $230 million film after the $7.5 million 500 Days of (Summer). Sure, Chronicle director Josh Trank may have tanked The Fantastic Four, his first tent-pole, but we bet he won’t stay in ‘movie jail’ as long as, say, Karyn Kusama.”

Meanwhile, as Variety points out, only 12 percent of last year's blockbusters were overseen by women, and as I would like to point out, somebody keeps giving Max Landis fucktons of cash.

The Solution: Kathleen Kennedy reminds me of the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump — who found more protection, power, and solidarity with their race than with their gender. Kathleen is one of the only women in Hollywood with any semblance of real power, one of the only “suits” in the industry who can call on whatever particular brand of egregious sexism she's experienced as a way to convey to her dick-having peers that they need to work harder to include women. It's not only Kathleen's responsibility to do this, but I'm assuming that Kathleen is one of the only people who understands that it's a responsibility, period. Which makes her betrayal even harsher! Et tu, Kathleen?! Alas, I knew, all the way back in April, that this b was not to be trusted.

By way of a solution to this embarrassing, backwater problem that should've been solved within minutes of Hollywood's conception, Kathleen Kennedy will be forced to fund and produce Casey Affleck's Boston-themed Harvard valet service.


VMAs 2017