While the industry applauds a new era of female empowerment, a controversial actor is poised to win an Oscar and men dominated music’s big night
Little of the #MeToo pressure, however, has landed on Gary Oldman, a nominee who was once accused of abusing an ex-wife and who previously used racist and sexist slurs in an interview while railing against “political correctness” and defending Mel Gibson’s antisemitic comments. On the contrary, Oldman is expected to win the top prize, his first best actor trophy, which critics say is something of a lifetime achievement award.
Oldman has always denied the domestic violence claims by his ex and was never charged, but some say his awards season success is the latest example of hypocrisy in Hollywood amid the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
“It’s saying that talent matters more than being a decent person,” said Han Angus, founder and editor of Nerdy POC, which advocates for diversity in media and criticized the Golden Globes for giving an award to Oldman for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. “If he does win … it’s going to be absolute fire for the Oscars.”
While leaders across the entertainment industry have applauded victims for telling their stories, in the new era of accountability, the treatment of men accused of misconduct and misogynist behavior has not always been consistent. At the same time, numerous missteps and scandals have also exposed the ways in which the male-dominated industries that tout their renewed commitment to diversity continue to exclude female artists.
Critics have pointed to the Oscar nominations for Oldman and Kobe Bryant, who previously faced rape charges (which he denied and were later dropped); a Grammys night that almost universally rejected female talent, prompting a sexist defense and later an apology; Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl performance, which “threw Janet Jackson under the bus”; and the cancellation of numerous female-led television shows.
An Oscar for Oldman would mean two consecutive years of controversial best actor winners. Affleck, last year’s winner, was accused of harassment during a 2010 film, allegedly propositioning and grabbing a female producer and climbing uninvited into the bed of a cinematographer in the middle of the night. He denied wrongdoing and settled legal claims.
In 2001, Oldman’s ex-wife Donya Fiorentino accused him of hitting her multiple times with a phone receiver as she tried to dial 911 in front of their young children. Oldman’s representatives have long denied the assault, and the authorities investigated and awarded him full custody without filing charges. In an interview published this month, however, Fiorentino urged her ex-husband to “stand up and take responsibility for his actions”.
Oldman’s representatives declined to comment. The actor recently described the conflict with his ex as a “deeply personal and painful time in my life”, saying he “appreciated the due diligence of all involved” and was “most thankful for the outcome”.
In a 2014 Playboy interview, Oldman also defended Gibson’s antisemitic tirade by saying “we’ve all said those things”, adding: “We’re all fucking hypocrites … The policeman who arrested [Gibson] has never used the word ‘nigger’ or ‘that fucking Jew’?” He also lamented that he would face backlash if he called the congresswoman Nancy Pelosi a “fucking useless cunt”.
He later apologized.
Melissa Silverstein, founder of the Women in Hollywood site and initiative, said it was unclear if Oldman’s controversial past would have any impact on the Oscars: “These people have some really high-level people helping them navigate this.”
Asked about the gender disparities, the Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow, responded that women needed to “step up”, while the Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich defended Lorde’s exclusion by saying, “These shows are a matter of choices. We have a box and it gets full.”
U2 and Sting, who were not nominated, both performed at the event.
“Male performing artists are still viewed as ‘universal’ and women are viewed as ‘other’ or only for women predominantly,” said Brooke Axtell, a musician and activist who gave a speech at the 2015 Grammys about surviving domestic abuse.
Portnow’s remarks, she said, sent a hurtful and false message to young women who have faced discrimination that “what you are experiencing is your fault”.
The television industry has also faced scrutiny, particularly Amazon Studios for the cancellation of two critically acclaimed female-led shows with queer characters – One Mississippi, comedian Tig Notaro’s show, which dealt with sexual assault, and I Love Dick, co-created by Jill Soloway and written by Chris Kraus.
Darnell Hunt, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor whose research has exposed the lack of diversity in film and television, said the cancellations were “unfortunate, given the current cultural environment where women are speaking up about their traditional marginalization in society and wanting more of their stories to be heard”.
The New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum lamented One Mississippi’s end, calling it the “most prescient show about all of the #metoo moment”, and others said it was particularly tone deaf given that Amazon Studios last year had its own sexual harassment scandal involving its top executive.
Axtell said she hoped the #MeToo momentum would translate to long-term institutional support for female creators.
“It’s time for a radical transformation in the valuing of women’s voices – both the voices of women as survivors and women as artists.”