In Hollywood, there are a million ways for a female actress to be added to the blacklist of former luminaries and controversial has-beens. A woman can be shoved out of the thirty-mile zone for saying the wrong thing, picking the wrong project, or insulting the wrong dude. She can gain too many pounds or simply age out of fuckability. Katherine Heigl was all but cast out for daring to call Knocked Up—a movie about a beautiful, fertile woman and the underemployed shmuck she inexplicably ends up with—“a little sexist.” Which, by the way, it is.
While female celebrities have to police their statements and constantly check their scales, we have yet to find rock bottom for their male counterparts. A stunning jawline and ability to memorize a script doesn’t exactly mean that you can get away with murder, but it does help with just about anything else. Sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, and anti-Semitism are just a few of the crimes that A-list male celebs have successfully walked away from.
In a new episode of Phoebe Robinson’s podcast “Sooo Many White Guys,” Robinson and guest Lena Dunham addressed this double standard, as embodied by raging anti-Semite turned Oscar-nominated director Mel Gibson.
Gibson’s re-ascendancy can be traced, like most nefarious and gag-inducing phenomena, to 2016.
In that ill-fated, fateful year, Gibson’s newest film, Hacksaw Ridge, racked up nominations from the Critics’ Choice awards and the Golden Globes. When Dunham saw that the director was nominated “for like a million things” at the Golden Globes, she was genuinely shocked. As she told Robinson, “It’s so crazy that Mel Gibson gets to make those insane movies and like scream about Jewish people on the street and then he gets to make a movie and everyone’s like, ‘But he’s an artist!’” Dunham is confident that, “If a woman went on a rant about Jews she would literally be like put in a dungeon.”
Robinson inserted that, adding insult to injury, Gibson was nominated for “fucking Hacksaw Ridge,” a film she places in the cinematic genre of a “white dude jerking off about the heroism of another white man—I could not be less interested in that.” Dunham reciprocated the verbal eye-roll, saying that while “Andrew Garfield is a wonderful actor, and I can’t wait to watch him in something, it’s not going to be this.” She concluded, “That would be a $17 nap for me.”
Whether or not you want to spend $17 to witness the World War II drama of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector turned battlefield medic, is obviously a personal decision. But the Academy’s recent choice to lavish Gibson with yet another nomination is, to many, a personal affront. As The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote, putting Gibson up for Best Director “is an astonishing gesture of forgiveness of someone whose tirades against people of color, gay people, women, and Jews once made him a pariah of the industry.” Apparently, shouting out a handful of non-white artists—for once—has freed up the Academy to indulge its other worst instincts.
Truly, Gibson’s rap sheet of immoral actions would make even Chris Brown blush.
Let’s put it this way—The Passion of the Christ, 2004’s intensely polarizing depiction of some truly despicable Jewish characters, was by no means the worst thing Mel Gibson has ever done. That superlative is currently up for grabs—it could be the time he was pulled over for drunk driving, only to rant at his arresting officer, “Fucking Jews...The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world…Are you a Jew?” It could be when he mocked gay men on the record, telling an interviewer that, “They take it up the ass. [laughs, stands up, bends over, points to anus] This is only for taking a shit.” Alternatively, it could be the time he said to his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, “You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault,” or when he admitted to hitting her, saying, “You know what? You fucking deserved it.”
Gibson eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery.
Of course, the real question here isn’t which of Gibson’s actions are the most despicable, or if he’s ruder to Jews, gays, or to the mother of his child. It’s why Hollywood would ever forgive a man with Gibson’s track record. Of course, to hear the Hacksaw Ridge director tell it, Gibson has been paying for his various indiscretions for far too long.
When a reporter from The Globe and Mail attempted to ask Gibson about his bad behavior, he dismissed the question, saying, “That was, like, 10 years ago. It’s old, Barry, it’s so old. I’ve moved on, and I wish everyone else would.” Either Mel Gibson has a magic wand, or all a male celebrity has to do to get back into Hollywood’s good graces is the literal least. Having spent around a decade in the doghouse, Gibson is once again reaping the rewards of being behind the camera. In doing so, he’s joined the ranks of Woody Allen, Sean Penn, and Johnny Depp, to name just a few of the celebs who are still taking home accolades in the wake of highly unsavory accusations.
Gibson’s career crucifixion and subsequent resurrection is serious déjà vu—in more ways than one. As The Daily Beast noted, the director occupies a distinctly Trumpian space in the entertainment world orbit—a lone anti-PC warrior, raging against the Jews to his very last, beer-drenched breath. It’s not just that Gibson is one of the only men alive to have pissed off as many identity groups as our President. He’s also a true, unapologetic antihero. Like Trump, he tells it like he sees it. And like Trump, he’s proven himself capable of surmounting comments and actions that we would like to think of as professional suicide.
We have yet to see, with any sort of consensus, how artists will react and engage in Trump’s America. But for many, the Academy Awards appear to be some sort of crucible. With a man accused of serial sexual assault currently occupying our highest office, will we lower our standards of acceptable behavior in acquiescence, or raise them in resistance? Will men and women in possession of large platforms act bravely, or revert to the increasingly uncomfortable status quo?
Actress Constance Wu had a few thoughts to share on the matter in a lengthy social media response to the Academy’s nominations.
Wu did not specifically call out Gibson; instead, she focused her ire on Casey Affleck, who earned a Best Actor nod for his performance in Manchester By the Sea. As The Daily Beast previously reported, Ben’s younger brother faced two sexual harassment suits back in July 2010. The accusations come from women who worked for Affleck on I’m Still Here, his controversial Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary. They alleged that Affleck allowed an environment of gendered harassment to flourish on set, and that he personally added to their discomfort on multiple occasions. Magdalena Gorka, the film’s director of photography, said in her complaint that she awoke one night to find that Affleck had crawled into bed next to her while she was sleeping. She alleges that, “He had his arm around her, was caressing her back, his face was within inches of hers and his breath reeked of alcohol.” When Gorka ordered her married boss out of bed, he reportedly asked her if she was “sure.” In light of incidents like this, Gorka described her time on the set of I’m Still Here as “the most traumatizing of her career.” Affleck eventually settled both of the suits; seven years later, he’s an Oscar favorite.
“Men who sexually harass women 4 OSCAR!” Wu tweeted on Tuesday, greeting the announced nomination. “Bc good acting performance matters more than humanity, human integrity! Bc poor kid rly needs the help!” The Fresh Off the Boat actress continued, “Boys! BUY ur way out of trouble by settling out of court!…Just do a good acting job, thats all that matters! bc Art isn’t about humanity, right?”
In a longer note, Wu expanded on the importance of the Academy’s decision, calling Affleck’s win “a nod to Trump’s.” She explained, “The choices an awarding committee makes DOES increase the dignity of an award and brings to light to the pursuit our craft seeks to honor. It signifies said committee’s awareness of the harmful oversights it may have unknowingly participated in in the past, not repeat it and not to use it as an excuse to reinforce the industry’s gross and often hidden mistreatment of women.” In a subsequent tweet, the actress confessed that, “I’ve been counseled not to talk about this for career's sake. F my career then, I'm a woman & human first. That's what my craft is built on.”
Because while sexually harassing a woman isn’t necessarily a career impediment, speaking out against a male celebrity is a faux pas of epic proportions.