The Glaring Hypocrisy of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Harvey Weinstein Statements
It took a while for the actors, whose careers Weinstein launched with ‘Good Will Hunting,’ to comment. But they’re no strangers to championing an accused Hollywood predator.
But as the list of women accusing Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault lengthens, only a handful of powerful male celebrities have condemned the Hollywood heavyweight outright. Given Hollywood’s propensity to forgive and forget when it comes to male abusers—Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, and Roman Polanski, to name just a few—this is a crucial moment in which Weinstein will either be permanently cut off from the movie business or ceremoniously vanquished only to quietly resurface in a few years.
Weinstein’s professional viability is directly tied to the A-List collaborators who have historically adored him. The longer celebrities remain silent on Weinstein, the more likely the story is to blow over, the disgusting allegations against the producer fading away until they’re just footnotes, his alarming history of harassment transforming back into an unspoken Hollywood secret.
So far, women have been more likely to condemn Weinstein than their male counterparts, with actresses like Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, and Julianne Moore speaking out in support of his accusers. On Tuesday even more victims went on the record with The New York Times, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie. Both alleged that Weinstein sexually harassed them near the beginning of their careers, with Paltrow recalling that, “I was a kid, I was signed up, I was petrified.”
While actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd have become the voices of Weinstein’s outing, there are a few men in the industry who have supported these women by amplifying their statements and issuing their own.
George Clooney condemned Weinstein to The Daily Beast, calling his behavior “indefensible.” He elaborated, “I’ve heard rumors, and the rumors in general started back in the ’90s, and they were that certain actresses had slept with Harvey to get a role. It seemed like a way to smear the actresses and demean them by saying that they didn’t get the jobs based on their talent, so I took those rumors with a grain of salt. But the other part of this, the part we’re hearing now about eight women being paid off, I didn’t hear anything about that and I don’t know anyone that did. That’s a whole other level and there’s no way you can reconcile that. There’s nothing to say except that it’s indefensible.”
Underlying every official statement and every demand for this or that A-Lister to speak out is the question of who knew what—who was truly in the dark, and who was actively covering for an abuser (or simply looking the other way). As actress Emma de Caunes told The New Yorker, “I know that everybody—I mean everybody—in Hollywood knows that it’s happening… He’s not even really hiding. I mean, the way he does it, so many people are involved and see what’s happening. But everyone’s too scared to say anything.”
It’s entirely unfair to hound actresses for Harvey Weinstein statements or blame them for working with a man who was, by all accounts, too powerful to offend or take down. Better to focus our collective ire on powerful men who fueled the culture of silence, paving the way for Weinstein’s decades of nearly unobstructed abuse. As Jessica Chastain tweeted Monday, “I’m sick of the media demanding only women speak up. What about the men? Perhaps many are afraid to look at their own behavior…”
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Lena Dunham wrote that, “Mr. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he’s certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild… why the deafening silence, particularly from the industry’s men, when one of our own is outed as having a nasty taste for humiliating and traumatizing women?”
Dunham continued, “The reason I am zeroing in on the men is that they have the least to lose and the most power to shift the narrative, and are probably not dealing with the same level of collective and personal trauma around these allegations. But here we are, days later, waiting for Mr. Weinstein’s most powerful collaborators to say something. Anything.”
Dunham’s appeal for an end to male silence was retweeted by her frequent collaborator Jenni Konner, who added, “A call to arms (but also a call to Matt Damon?).” Konner isn’t the first person to specifically call out Damon who, alongside Ben Affleck, got his first big break courtesy of Harvey Weinstein.
When Weinstein’s Miramax bought the rights to 1997’s Good Will Hunting, Damon and Affleck were far from household names. With the powerful producer’s help, the beloved film went on to gross $138 million, taking home two Oscars and nine Academy Award nominations. A 2004 Vanity Fair article detailed Affleck and Damon’s bittersweet relationship with Weinstein and Miramax. “The exchange is: They’ll spend money promoting the movie, they’ll spend money on an Academy campaign, they’ll win you an Oscar, and their reputation is they make better movies. But they’re a nightmare to make a deal with,” Affleck explained, concluding, “O, yeah, we kind of got screwed, but, when it came right down to it, it worked out great for us.”
Regarding the infamously intemperate Miramax co-chairman, Damon said this: “It’s the old tale of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion’s sitting on the bank of a river, and a frog walks by, and the scorpion says, ‘Take me to the other side.’ The frog replies, ‘No, because when we get to the other side and you have what you want, you’re going to sting me.’ The scorpion says, ‘I would never do that. Please, I’m asking you for a favor—I can’t swim. I need your help.’ The frog finally agrees, takes him across on his back, and just as they get to the other side, the scorpion stings the frog. As the frog is dying, he says, ‘Why did you do that?’ The scorpion just looks down at him and says, ‘Because I’m a scorpion, it’s my nature.’ It’s the same with Harvey. It’s his nature.”
As revelations about Weinstein’s alleged “nature”—predatory, exploitative, vindictive, small—continue to make headlines, Damon’s days-long silence was seen as evidence of his continued loyalty. On Monday, Rose McGowan, who reportedly received a $100,000 settlement after a hotel-room incident with Weinstein, tweeted, “Hey @Mattdamon what’s it like to be a spineless profiteer who stays silent?” McGowan also called out his Good Will Hunting pals Ben and Casey Affleck, writing, “how’s your morning boys?”
Unlike other actors who merely worked with Weinstein, reaping in the profits and awards, Damon allegedly played a role in the culture of silence that allowed the producer to maintain his position of power. The Wrap founder Sharon Waxman says that she was working on a story for The New York Times about Weinstein’s alleged misconduct back in 2004. According to Vulture, “Waxman alleges in The Wrap that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe called her ‘directly’ to dispel the reports she was following about Miramax’s Italian head Fabrizio Lombardo, who was allegedly hired ‘to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.’ She says that because of their influence, and interference from Weinstein, whose company was a big advertiser in the Times, the article was edited to remove the more salacious details.”
When Damon finally did comment on the Weinstein controversy on Tuesday, it was in large part to defend himself against these accusations. The actor insisted that while he did speak to Waxman at Harvey’s behest, it was only to detail his professional experience with Lombardo. “Harvey had called me and said, they’re writing a story about Fabrizio, who I knew from The Talented Mr. Ripley,” he recalled. “He has organized our premiere in Italy and so I knew him in a professional capacity and I’d had dinner at his house. Harvey said, Sharon Waxman is writing a story about Fabrizio and it’s really negative. Can you just call and tell her what your experience with Fabrizio was. So I did, and that’s what I said to her…I’m sure I mentioned to her that I didn’t know anything about the rest of her piece, because I didn’t. And I still don’t know anything about that and Fabrizio. My experience with him was all above board and that’s what I told her.”
“For the record, I would never, ever, ever try to kill a story like that. I just wouldn’t do that. It’s not something I would do, for anybody,” Damon continued, adding, “I did five or six movies with Harvey. I never saw this. I think a lot of actors have come out and said, everybody’s saying we all knew. That’s not true. This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view. If there was ever an event that I was at and Harvey was doing this kind of thing and I didn’t see it, then I am so deeply sorry, because I would have stopped it.”
Ben Affleck also issued a statement on Tuesday, writing that, “I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass, and manipulate many women over decades… This is completely unacceptable, and I find myself asking what I can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to others. We need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers, and daughters. We must support those who come forward, condemn this type of behavior when we see it and help ensure there are more women in positions of power.” (Affleck and Damon did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on this story.)
Affleck’s performative condemnation thoroughly backfired on social media. Just hours after the actor released his statement, a Twitter user wrote, “He also grabbed [One Tree Hill actress] Hilarie Burton’s breasts on TRL once. Everyone forgot though.” Burton herself quickly jumped in to confirm the incident, responding, “I didn’t forget.” She then tweeted an outtakes clip from her TRL appearance, in which she appears to reference Affleck’s groping, saying, “He comes over and tweaks my left boob.” Burton recalled, “I had to laugh back then so I wouldn’t cry.” She was 21 years old at the time.
Rose McGowan also responded to Affleck on Tuesday, seemingly asserting that the actor knew more than he’s letting on: “‘GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT’ you said that to my face. The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie.” She later added “Ben Affleck fuck off.” McGowan and Affleck co-starred in the 1998 film Phantoms, which was released by Weinstein’s Miramax one year after an alleged incident with Weinstein and McGowan at a hotel suite during the Sundance Film Festival resulted in the aforementioned financial settlement.
Damon and Affleck’s statements feel disingenuous, and not just because they waited days to issue them, finally speaking out when the pressure to do so (from both the public and their peers) became unbearable. Both of the actors purport to support victims and condemn abusers. Affleck’s statement in particular is focused around the concept of doing more, with the star seemingly challenging himself to work toward dismantling the systems of power that elevate abusers and silence their victims. One wonders where Ben Affleck, male ally, was back in 2016, when he was a major player in his brother Casey Affleck’s Oscar campaign.
As Lainey Gossip’s Lainey Lui pointed out at the time, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were incredibly visible during the campaign, posing as a trio with Casey at premieres as the Best Actor race heated up. Damon, who produced Manchester by the Sea, praised its star in multiple interviews, calling Casey “one of the best actors I’ve ever met”—someone “I grew up with and loved dearly.” In an article for The Cut, Allie Jones proposed that it was Casey’s proximity to these A-List stars that protected his career after 2010 sexual harassment allegations resurfaced. “Luckiest for Affleck, he is the brother of a major movie star and the childhood friend of another,” Jones wrote. “This brotherly posing makes prestige outlets hesitant to ask the younger Affleck tough questions, for fear of losing access to all three stars. His cruise to the Oscars continues undeterred because of his privileged position in Hollywood.”
As The Daily Beast previously reported, two women who worked with Affleck on the set of his documentary I’m Still Here alleged that they were subject to a spectrum of unprofessional behavior, ranging from verbal harassment and inappropriate comments to unwanted touching and physical intimidation. The film’s director of photography Magdalena Gorka described the experience as “the most traumatizing of her career.” According to Gorka’s complaint, she was staying with other crewmembers in New York for a shoot one night when she was woken up by Affleck’s presence. She alleged 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.” When Gorka ordered her married boss to leave, Affleck allegedly responded, “Why?” and then asked if she was “sure.”
Producer Amanda White also sued Affleck with similar claims. As The Daily Beast reported, “[White] 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.” Both White and Gorka’s lawsuits ultimately ended in settlements.
After a slew of fawning profiles and rave reviews, Affleck won an Oscar for Best Actor, proving once again that allegedly abusing women does not disqualify men from the entertainment industry’s highest honor.
Harvey Weinstein and Casey Affleck are not the same, but they’ve both benefited from the same system: one in which powerful men protect other powerful men, and reporters are pressured not to publish certain stories or ask certain questions. Casey Affleck’s career flourished even after two women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon actively threw their support behind him, and it’s safe to say that that A-list backing helped accelerate the collective amnesia that allowed Hollywood to forgive Casey’s alleged misconduct. After Casey Affleck seemingly dismissed the claims against him, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon testified to his talent and stood beside him literally and figuratively, all but ensuring that Casey’s career would continue along its upward trajectory.
It seems like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon take no issue with the culture of silence when it is convenient to them, and are quick to harness their power in order to protect family and friends. But when it is no longer permissible to be associated with a known abuser, they distance themselves with vague statements, performing disgust and horror, evoking their wives and daughters. Condemning Weinstein now that he is too toxic to collaborate with does not an ally make; particularly when we’re dealing with men like Damon and Affleck who have historically aided alleged abusers and worked to preserve their Teflon reputations.