Casey Affleck has addressed his decision not to speak publicly about sexual harassment allegations against him that resurfaced in the last couple of years, saying the #MeToo movement "scares" him and that he felt staying silent better allowed him to avoid detracting from its goals.
"It is very, very hard to talk about, and it scares me," said Affleck, discussing the allegations and subsequent outcry on social media, which stemmed from his conduct on the set of 2010 mockumentary I'm Still Here. "Mostly because the values of the #MeToo movement are values that are at the heart of my being; just the way I was raised, they are baked into my own value system."
While in conversation with actor Dax Shepard on his podcast Armchair Expert, Affleck reflected on the allegations and being on the receiving end of a social movement's anger. "I felt like the best thing to do was to just be quiet so that I didn’t seem to be in opposition to something that I really wanted to champion,” Affleck told Shepard. “It’s a tough spot to be in, especially if you really do appreciate and want to be a support of the side that seems angriest, and the anger is being directed at you."
The actor spoke at length about being accused of sexual harassment by two crew members on the I'm Still Here set. When director of photography Magdalena Gorka and producer Amanda White came forward at the time to detail Affleck's misconduct, they painted a picture of a toxic work environment on set in which Affleck engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior, including verbal abuse, offensive texts, and unwanted sexual advances.
The allegations resulted in two settled lawsuits and came back into the public eye in late 2017 during the heightened accountability of the #MeToo movement. Renewed criticism of Affleck led him to bow out of presenting the Best Actor trophy at last year's Oscars; he had won the category a year prior for his performance in Manchester by the Sea.
Affleck, discussing his decision not to publicly defend himself throughout the experience, added: "I’ve talked about it a little bit to honor that this was someone else’s experience of this. It’s not my experience, but you have to respect that someone else had an experience and take that to heart."
Discussing the larger #MeToo movement, Affleck also said those looking to separate themselves from "worse offenders" are in some ways missing the point of the movement's larger aims of increasing accountability across the film industry.
"Can we even make these distinctions between the worst cases and sort of what is perceived to be the tamest cases of it?" Affleck asked. "It’s not like, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad, and that’s really horrible. It is that it is systemic. It is accepted culturally at its tamest and that it all needs to be turned on its head and eradicated. Not allowed for."
All this said, Affleck noted that "it's been frustrating" to have his name associated with sexual harassment. "The way that I’m thought of sometimes by certain people recently has been so antithetical to who I really am," Affleck said, adding that he nonetheless supports the larger movement.
"Who would not be supportive of the #MeToo movement? That’s an idea that’s even out there?' Affleck said. "That there are some people saying we do not believe in equality and we think the workplace should be a dangerous place for certain people and not for others. That’s preposterous."
After opting not to present at the 2018 Oscars ceremony, Affleck told the Associated Press he regretted the "unprofessional" way he'd acted on the set of I'm Still Here, saying "I have to accept responsibility for that and that was a mistake."
Affleck's comments on the Armchair Expert podcast, and the interview itself, drew criticism in some quarters. "It’s all fun and and games until we give a voice to a sexual harasser," wrote one Instagram user, earning almost 800 likes under a post by the podcast promoting Affleck's interview.
The original post's wording, calling Affleck a "lovely human," drew further criticism from commenters, with one writing, "How quickly we've forgotten. #MeToo."
On Twitter, author Gabi Moskowitz wrote that she was "really disappointed about this one," responding to the podcast's tweet promoting the interview.
Not all responses to the interview were entirely negative. Another user, under the name Adri, tweeted: "We can't criticise people for not wanting to talk about things and then do exactly the same and refuse to have a conversation." But Adri also critiqued an observation by Shepard's assistant, Monica Padman, that false sexual harassment allegations are made by women on occasion. "The facts demonstrate that the percentage of false accusations is minimal," the tweet read. "Almost no one goes through that scrutiny and public exposure without good reason.. Moving forward we should all listen and adjust our behaviours, rather than considering our experience as the absolute truth."
Jezebel, reporting on the interview, made its stance clear with a sarcastic headline: "Casey Affleck Is an Ally Now?" Added writer Maria Sherman, "I’m sure the men awaiting Affleck’s return really got something out of these quotes."
Pajiba went a step further, with its writer Dustin Rowles slamming Shepard for the "really weird" way in which he framed his and Affleck's discussion of the #MeToo.
Rowles noted that Shepard seemed to reassure Affleck throughout the podcast that public understanding of consent, as well as what does and does not constitute sexual misconduct, has shifted over the past few years. "That's not wrong in the abstract," wrote Rowles. "However, as applied to Casey Affleck’s allegations, Shepard’s uninvited defense of Affleck is not even remotely on point."
Rowles commended Affleck for some of his comments on the #MeToo movement, though he faulted the actor for excluding his own conduct from the conversation in some instances.
"Dax and Monica [Padman, Shepard's assistant] do not come off particularly well," concluded Rowles. "They sound like two people far more interested in defending a guy they like and want to like them than two people wanting to have an honest conversation. Casey Affleck, meanwhile, says a lot of right things about the #MeToo movement, it’s just that he stubbornly divorces himself from it."
Armchair Expert did not immediately respond to a Fortune request for comment.
Affleck's appearance on the podcast had been arranged to promote his upcoming film Light of My Life, which the actor wrote and directed. The movie, which is slated for an Aug. 9 day-and-date release in theaters and on demand, focuses on a father (played by Affleck) who must protect his young daughter's innocence in the wake of a global pandemic that practically wipes out the world's entire female population.
Though the subject matter has been read by some as a reflection on Affleck's recent legal troubles, he maintained at the film's Berlin premiere that it had been written and made "before all those things became a part of the conversation."
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