Maybe it is possible for “the Weinsteins and Spaceys of the world” to find their way back into Hollywood.
To be clear, this isn’t the opinion that’s been put forth by one of the many, many victims of the recently outed hordes of Bad Men. Nor is it the professional opinion of a therapist, many of whom contest the efficacy of treatment regimens like the sex-addiction rehab Harvey Weinstein reportedly checked himself into. Instead, this pronouncement comes from a man who is at most tangentially related to the recent Hollywood upheaval: actor Bryan Cranston. Cranston, who very well could have stayed out of the conversation or classily amplified the voices of victims, many of whom are his female peers, instead decided to weigh in on the possibility of predator absolution.
In a recently released clip from a BBC interview, the Breaking Bad actor showed off his backwards evolution on the issue of sexual-misconduct allegations. While Cranston originally offered a straightforward, reasonable response when asked about Kevin Spacey, saying that his career is now over, the newest BBC clip shows the actor applying some Walter White logic to the latest hot-button Hollywood issue. Asked to philosophize on the possibility of redemption for accused rapists and alleged serial abusers, Cranston really ran with it.
“It would take time, it would take a society to forgive them, and it would take tremendous contrition on their part,” he began. “And a knowingness that they have a deeply rooted psychological and emotional problem and it takes years to mend that. If they were to show us that they put the work in and are truly sorry and making amends, and not defending their actions but asking for forgiveness, then maybe down the road there is room for that, maybe so. Then it would be up to us, to determine case by case whether or not this person deserves a second chance. I think in the face of it, we should let that open.”
“We shouldn’t close it off and say: ‘to hell with him, rot, and go away from us for the rest of your life,’” the 61-year-old concluded. “Let’s not do that, let’s be bigger than that. Let’s leave it open for the few who can make it through that gauntlet of trouble, and who have reclaimed their life and their dignity and respect for others. Maybe it’s possible. It would be egotistical for anyone to say, ‘I hope he fails.’ To that person, I would say, ‘Fuck you. Why would you want that? So you can be right?’”
Cranston began the segment on Hollywood abusers by insisting that, “Now we are in a place where we’re hypersensitive to this, and it’s a good thing that we are.” However, his choose your own adventure map for accused predators imagines a future beyond “hypersensitivity”—a time when this has all died down and we can revisit Spacey and Weinstein’s cases, rationally assessing their growth and sincerity. This fantastical future arbitration, as imagined by a male actor, leaves little room for the women, men, and adolescent boys who were allegedly attacked and harassed by these powerful men. Instead, according to Cranston, the judge and jury on these cultural cases is a vague first-person plural: “We should let that open…Then it would be up to us, to determine case by case.”
Of course, Cranston is describing a protocol that already exists. This is not a radical act of empathy or enlightenment that he’s proposing; it’s the standard process of Hollywood redemption, ruled over by majority male power players. As the Weinstein story taught us, Hollywood abuse is able to flourish because powerful men have the means to protect themselves. More damningly, the same system that runs on female silence, punishing those who do dare to speak out, seems designed to elevate bad men even in the face of gross misconduct. Just take Mel Gibson, who pleaded no contest in 2011 to a misdemeanor battery charge against his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva. Gibson’s anti-Semitic, sexist, and racist rants are out in the public domain, disgusting and undeniable. Still, his long road back to career viability comes as no surprise; of course Mel Gibson is “once again family friendly” (The Hollywood Reporter’s words), starring in a PG-13 box office hit. These second chances aren’t “up to us”; they’re facilitated by an amoral system in which the odds are perpetually stacked in white men’s favor, and a Hollywood comeback is almost always inevitable.
But perhaps things really will be different post-Weinstein; maybe some crimes, some decades-long patterns of cruelty and predation, are now considered inexcusable. Maybe some abusive men don’t deserve a star turn in Daddy’s Home 2. Unsurprisingly, this brave, new, unforgiving world is just too good to be true. Bad men can’t languish in a purgatory of their own creation for a few measly weeks without some famous, sympathetic dude tossing them a life vest. Enter Bryan Cranston, chastising the rest of us for daring to imagine a world in which a famous man might not get another chance.
Long before the current moment of #MeToo reckoning, powerful men have made appeals on behalf of their complicated, talented peers. Again and again, we’ve been asked to separate the art from the artist; to acknowledge the incomparable contributions of the Polanskis and the Allens of the world—the implication often being that the artistic contribution outweighs the misconduct, the perversion or the crime. Now, Cranston is asking us to take a break from honoring the stories of survivors to excavate the humanity of these monstrous abusers. He wants us to be “bigger than that,” to take the high road. This discussion of second chances fails to mention the countless victims, many of whom we do not even know by name. The survivors who became disillusioned with their industry after a traumatic incident or whose careers were taken from them. Women who have lost opportunities because of male misbehavior and women who were never given the same opportunities as those abusive men in the first place.
Anyone who proposes a second chance for accused rapists and sexual harassers while the rest of us are still reckoning with these injustices has no place occupying the moral high ground. There’s no need for Bryan Cranston to opine on this issue at all. But if he absolutely must, he should center the needs and voices of victims instead of worrying about the potential absolution of their abusers.