Casey Affleck has spent years teetering on the precipice of movie stardom. Recognizable last name aside, Affleck’s acting chops appear to not only rival—but surpass—those of his more famous brother. He was lauded for his twitchy turn in Gone Baby Gone and earned an Academy Award nomination for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
But the younger Affleck was undermined by his own passion project.
Coming off a hot streak of acting roles, Affleck made the unexpected decision to refocus his energy on an experimental documentary about his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix. That germ of an idea eventually blossomed into an infamous project, 2010’s I’m Still Here. In this documentary turned mockumentary turned cautionary tale, Affleck chronicled Phoenix’s fake evolution from leading man to aspiring rapper, complete with notorious TV interviews and the general appearance of personal and professional implosion. Critics’ reactions to the film ranged from apathy to confusion to anger; one Slate writer declared that “The worst thing about I’m Still Here is the fact that it exists.” Even Ben Affleck admitted that his brother may have made a mistake with that one, noting, “I thought it was a really smart, creative thing that nobody else had thought of. But he did it at the expense of his acting career.”
It’s hard to paint the good-looking, headstrong brother of one of the world’s biggest movie stars as a Hollywood underdog. And yet, with Casey emerging as a frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar for his work in Manchester by the Sea, the 41-year-old’s biography has been reworked to fit this winning narrative. In the film, Affleck plays a man whose life has been upended by a tragic event. It’s the sort of dark, emotionally exhausting performance that finds actors showered in awards and accolades.
Affleck’s turn has already garnered rave reviews, as well as magazine profiles that are usually reserved for Oscar favorites. A few of these stories—like October’s Variety cover story on Affleck—feature an aberrant footnote. Nearly 2,000 words into the profile, there’s a brief mention of sexual harassment. 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.” The Daily Beast reached out to Affleck’s representative for additional comment to no avail.
Of course, Affleck’s family-man mumbo jumbo doesn’t really do justice to the severity of his allegations.
In December 2008, Amanda White agreed to serve as a producer on an untitled documentary headed by Affleck and Flemmy Productions, which ultimately became I’m Still Here. She had a decade-long history of working with Affleck. Over the course of filming, White alleged in the complaint that she was repeatedly harassed. On one occasion, she claimed that Affleck ordered a crew member to take off his pants and show White his penis—even after she vehemently objected. She claimed that Affleck repeatedly referred to women as “cows,” and recounted his sexual exploits with reckless abandon. In her complaint, 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’s accusations go on, ranging from incredibly unprofessional behavior to actual physical intimidation. She described an instance where she was prevented from returning to her bedroom during shooting, because Affleck and Phoenix had locked themselves in her room with two women where they had sex with them (Affleck was married with two children to Phoenix’s sister, Summer, at the time—though the couple recently split). She also alleged that Affleck attempted to manipulate her into sharing a hotel room with him. When she resisted, White claimed, 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. White filed a $2 million lawsuit against Affleck in Los Angeles Superior Court on July 23, 2010.
As part of her producer duties, White was also asked to renegotiate an agreement with Magdalena Gorka, the film’s director of photography. Gorka had previously left the project due to an alleged similar pattern of harassment. In her complaint, Gorka described her treatment at the hands of Casey Affleck as “the most traumatizing of her career.”
Almost immediately after beginning work on the project, the gross comments allegedly began. Gorka claimed 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.
On the assumption that Affleck’s behavior wouldn’t—or couldn’t—get worse, Gorka said she stuck with the project, and traveled with other crew members to New York for shooting in mid-December 2008. At the time, Gorka was the only woman actively working on the film. In lieu of paying for a hotel, she said Affleck and Phoenix decided to have the crew stay overnight at their apartment. After a long shoot, she claimed Phoenix offered to sleep in the living room and give Gorka his private bedroom.
According to Gorka’s complaint, she awoke in the middle of the night to find Affleck lying in bed next to her. She alleges that the actor was “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 said that she flew back to New York, informed her agent of Affleck’s sexual advances, and quit the project.
When Amanda White contacted Gorka in January 2009, the cinematographer decided to give the film another shot. She said she had been unsuccessfully looking for work in the weeks since walking out on Affleck, and believed that having another woman on set would foster a safer working environment, and prevent further sexual harassment. If true, the presence of two women was hardly a deterrent.
Over the next few months, Gorka alleged that she was subjected 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.” In addition to being berated and verbally attacked by the director, she claimed that she was constantly criticized for “refusing to be submissive” in response to his disrespectful comments and undermining rants. After months of work, Gorka once again resigned from the project due to alleged harassment and abuse. In what Gorka perceives as clear retaliation, Affleck refused to honor the terms of her employment agreement, which included a “Director of Photography” credit on the film. According to her complaint, Gorka continues to suffer from “humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress as a direct result of the harassment and abuse she endured during production.” Gorka filed a $2.25 million lawsuit against Affleck in L.A. Superior Court one week after White.
Amanda White also claimed that Affleck retaliated against her complaints. After White objected to Affleck’s behavior, she said he failed to pay her agreed upon producer’s fee. According to White, he also failed to pay her a “living wage” while she was working on the mockumentary. At the time of her complaint filing, White maintained that she had not been paid for any of the work she did on the film—a project she said she toiled on for over three months.
Overall, these complaints paint a decidedly different picture of Casey Affleck, leading man. In addition to allegedly harassing the women he employed, Affleck is said to have actively enjoyed putting them in uncomfortable positions, refusing to step in as the working environment on the project became increasingly hostile. In the words of White’s thorough and deeply damning complaint, “Affleck encouraged and participated in the harassment of Plaintiff and Gorka for his own twisted gratification.” Furthermore, both women insist that Affleck’s treatment only worsened when and if they objected—a campaign of retaliation and verbal abuse that ultimately culminated in his refusal to honor their contracts.
When his former employees first sued, Affleck vehemently denied their allegations, going so far as threatening to countersue. However, Affleck eventually agreed to mediation, during which a settlement was reached. While no details of any financial settlement were released to the public, it was reported that both women would receive due credit for their work on Affleck’s passion project.
As glowing writeups of Manchester by the Sea continue to roll in, Casey Affleck’s allegations merit more than an asterisk. Coverage of these types of cases often seems to operate according to an invisible scale. At first, unsavory allegations are cast aside in the service of palatable profiles. We subscribe to easy narratives; reporters don’t want to irritate stars with unpleasant questions, and fans don’t want to complicate their adoration with dark details. At a certain point, there is no longer an easy way out. The balance of public opinion shifts toward guilt, or, at the very least, suspicion. That’s why, after years of preserving Bill Cosby’s Teflon reputation, journalists suddenly stopped writing off the dozens of allegations that had been brought against the comedian. It’s why Nate Parker’s controversial past—which, although underreported, had never been a secret—suddenly became headline news in the weeks leading up to the release of The Birth of a Nation.
The Parker parallel is an important one. Of course, Parker was accused of a different, more serious crime—raping a female college student. Parker was acquitted, while Affleck settled. Then there’s the fact that Nate Parker is a black man. Like Affleck, the actor and director had been fast-tracked for critical acclaim and stardom. Considering the fact that Parker’s career has taken a fatal hit, we have to ask why Affleck’s history continues to be hidden paragraphs deep, or swept under the rug entirely. 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—which are available online here and here—shouldn’t be added as a crucial caveat in fawning profiles and glowing reviews.
These types of allegations haven’t always acted as insurmountable obstacles to continued Hollywood success. 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.