When I learned of the latest feature-length effort from local filmmakers David Lowery, James Johnston, and Toby Halbrooks, my excitement curdled about as soon as I recognized star Casey Affleck in the trailer. I want to support the work of the Sailor Bear team, and especially their frequent musical collaborator Daniel Hart, but I’ll be damned if I watch another picture with Affleck.
Two women accused him of sexual harassment several years ago, when they had worked on his Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I’m Still Here. Affleck eventually settled the cases and has neither acknowledged any wrongdoing nor publicly apologized in any capacity. Instead he has maintained his innocence and spoken of the toll that the “unfortunate situation” had taken. On him.
With little to no attention paid to Affleck’s past, he went on to receive an Oscar for his performance in Manchester by the Sea. Meanwhile, writer/director and performer Nate Parker saw his retelling of the Nat Turner story, The Birth of a Nation, tanked by renewed focus on allegations of rape against him (and, stunningly, his co-writer) from a case, which ended rather dubiously in his acquittal, 17 years prior. Parker, too, long maintained his innocence before beginning to gesture, if awkwardly, toward self-scrutiny and change. It’s hard not to think that Affleck benefited from his race here.
I should stress at this point that guilt obviously does not necessarily follow from accusations of rape, sexual assault, or harassment, and court settlements aren’t necessarily admissions of guilt. Also, the accusations against Affleck and Parker are not of the same order. But neither does it follow that the accusations against Affleck should be taken any less seriously or that what he stood accused of doing is any more “OK.”
As writers such as Roxane Gay and Jeannie Suk Gersen pointed out at the time, however, far and away the majority of women who bring such accusations are not lying – far and away, the majority are not believed, either. Just look at our president, who cast all Mexican immigrants as rapists despite copping to sexual assault himself – remember that infamous Access Hollywood video? – and still got elected.
It’s easy to get sanctimonious about Trump, but we can take action closer to home with people who might listen. In the case of Casey Affleck and A Ghost Story, we are members of the same community that these filmmakers call home. We are not powerless here, we are not too far removed from the parties involved, and we are not left with the choice of simply looking past the issue because artists will be artists.
We can ask more of them. As men, the Sailor Bear team have a responsibility and a unique opportunity to call in one of their own, to hold him to account. We can’t presume guilt, but in a rape culture that by default blames and discredits its victims, we should expect more even of the “innocent.” We should know that they take these issues seriously, that they are taking meaningful action to ensure that such situations never arise again. Until then, I’m staying home.
Correction: This article originally stated that Casey Affleck was accused of sexual assault. The actor was accused of sexual harassment. Fort Worth Weekly regrets the error.