Recently, on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, co-host Charlamagne tha God asked guests Jamilah Lemieux and Amber Phillips about Nate Parker. Among his varying questions on the controversial subject, Charlamagne referenced the notion of a double standard in that Parker can't evade backlash over accusations of sexual assault the way that white celebrities such as Woody Allen can. Such a sentiment is always conveyed in the quest for deflection when a black male public figure is accused of doing something despicable.
So are its responses: Two wrongs don’t make a right, and whatever trouble some famous white man gets into has no bearing on the goal of keeping everyone in our community accountable. Still, sometimes cries of double standard are too hard to ignore. Like in the case of Casey Affleck, who, despite accusations of sexual misconduct, is an early favorite to win the Academy Award for best actor for his role in the film Manchester by the Sea. Multiple women have accused Affleck of sexual harassment and verbal abuse while working for him on the Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I’m Still Here in 2010.
While there are select sites broaching the topic of his alleged behavior, for the most part it is much ado about nothing within the actor’s narrative. As noted at The Cut, Affleck is “showing up to interviews with a scraggy new beard 'for a role,' spouting off anecdotes from his childhood and smiling for the paparazzi like never before.” Affleck has not been pushed to do high-profile interviews in trade publications addressing what he has been accused of. Affleck hasn’t seen his art maligned in dealings with his personal life. With Affleck, consequences for one’s actions are an elective.
For the famous little brother whose own star is rapidly rising, it’s as if nothing ever happened. No wonder he’s smiling so much at the paparazzi while actively campaigning for an Oscar. What else would someone do who doesn’t deserve the good fortune he has?
Then there is Mel Gibson, who is enjoying quite the comeback thanks to his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge. Gibson, like Affleck, has a new Golden Globe nomination under his belt. Speaking to Vanity Fair about the nomination, Hacksaw Ridge producer Bill Mechanic said, “I’m glad people are judging the movie on its merits. I hope this opens up even more doors. People forgot he’s a great filmmaker.”
That is debatable, though one thing is for certain: Many now are purposely forgetting the racist, sexist comments Gibson made in 2006 when he was arrested for drunk driving.
To wit, Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore, telling Fox411 that Gibson’s past behavior won't be forgotten: “To say that Gibson carries a lot of baggage is an understatement and given his tumultuous past with regard to his personal life and controversial views the fact that Hacksaw Ridge is being recognized as a piece of great cinema proves that ultimately it's about the work, not the man himself.”
In “This Mel Gibson Comeback Is Happening,” Vanity Fair writer Rebecca Keegan noted: “Troubled backstories have been a theme in awards season this year—Birth of a Nation director Nate Parker’s acquittal on a rape charge seems to have completely scuttled any awards chances for his film, while sexual-harassment allegations in Casey Affleck’s past have emerged as the actor is promoting Manchester by the Sea.”
There is a theme, all right, although only if you are a white man. If not, good luck booking that favorable awards season of which you speak.
Ultimately, those of conscience—primarily black women—challenged Parker after he volunteered to discuss his history without better preparation. Even so, it was primarily black women who still supported the film. Many challenged him as a man and yet still went to judge him on his art. The same can be said about The Cosby Show’s return to television via Bounce TV.
There is no such debate about Casey Affleck the man and the actor in the mainstream press. Likewise, Mel Gibson isn’t just preserving his legacy; he is now actively extending it with a Golden Globes nomination and another potential stab at an Oscar. And yet Nate Parker has floated away.
Make no mistake—this does not absolve Parker of anything he may or may not have done during that period, or of his very poor attempts to discuss that time in his life. Frankly, I think everyone mentioned here comes across as a terrible person and doesn’t deserve the adulation that awards season brings. That aside, one can acknowledge that point and still find the hypocrisy frustrating all the same.
Parker made his bed, but that doesn’t negate the likelihood that if he shared Affleck’s lack of a tan, he would be a Golden Globes nominee himself. Parker and The Birth of a Nation were being touted earlier this year as much as any other awards-season favorites. Call this reality whatever you want, but don’t brand what’s happening with Affleck and Gibson anything close to a meritocracy.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.