Should actors be judged for their personal misdeeds during awards season?

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The words “The Academy Awards” evoke a sense of glamor and images of golden statues held by giddy, well-dressed actors and actresses, not of sexual assault and domestic violence. However, this year controversy regarding the frontrunner for Best Male Actor, Casey Affleck, has heightened the discussion of rape culture in the United States due to two past claims of sexual harassment made against Affleck in 2010.

The internet has responded ferociously to Affleck’s nomination with many claiming that the Academy should not consider him for this award and with others noting that an artist’s’ work should be viewed objectively and distinctly from the artist’s own life.

In this instance, I must side with the louder majority: the Academy must set a clear precedence that it does not tolerate sexual assault and domestic violence, especially in society with a pervasive rape culture.

This culture permeates through popular songs, which condone and even encourage treating women like chattel, the National Football League and even the our highest levels of government. The combination of this overwhelming apathy toward a national epidemic of violence does nothing to deter future attackers from harming their victims.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to these crimes, for if we do, we just perpetuate the problem.

Perhaps the worst offender of this is the NFL. In a 2015 study by the Journal of Criminal Defense, the researchers concluded that NFL players committed property crimes and public order crimes far less than the average citizen but committed violent crimes at much higher rates. When these stars committed such crimes as Ray Rice did in 2014, the NFL responded with a slap on the wrist – a two game suspension.

What message does this send to young men and women across the country? Their idols, individuals they support and follow and mimic their lives after, can escape punishment for sexual assault and domestic violence. This reinforces the idea that domestic violence and sexual assault are not serious crimes, which allows the cycle of abuse to continue.  

However, I must admit that the NFL has taken a marginally stronger stance against domestic violence. After the incident with Ray Rice and the public outrage that followed, the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a six game suspension for first time offenders and a lifetime suspension for repeat offenders.

While this punishment may still not be severe enough, the NFL has taken steps in the right direction to fix a devastating problem that affects one in three women in America and one in four men, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

I respect that the NFL and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists do not have the sole responsibility of ending rape culture in America. Our legal system must be amended to deter future crimes and to adequately punish offenders; our government must set an example for the country to follow by holding President Donald Trump accountable for his admission of sexually assaulting women in the past.  

But these popular institutions that amass great viewership and have significant societal roles must do their part as well. They impact impressionable citizens to a far greater extent their our nation’s laws, and thus the Academy tonight must stand firm in their convictions and tell the American public that the Academy will not allow for actors and actresses to use their clout to avoid punishment.

While I have not seen “Manchester by the Sea,” there is no movie whose brilliant outweighs the pain incurred by the hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual assault every year.\


– Mary Orsak – Asst. News Editor –