Over the course of the current awards circuit Casey Affleck has won most of the preliminary awards taking the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, Gotham New York Film Critics Circle and London Critics Circle awards but suddenly after his past sexual assault charges resurfaced, he lost the Screen Actors Guild Award to Denzel Washington (a fellow nominee in many of the above awards as well as at the upcoming Oscars).
Perhaps this was an anomaly and the Screen Actors Guild truly believes that Washington gave a better performance – film is a subjective experience and if this is the case then fine but looking at that run leading up to it, it’s hard not to connect the dots and say that Affleck’s personal life played a part in his loss.
If this is truly the case then you have taken away the value of the awards for if we are to believe that the Oscars are the prestigious award that rewards the absolute best in film and that they have value to both the actor and the public’s perception of performance quality (as evident by the usage of “Academy Award Winner” in marketing of films) then these external factors simply cannot be in play when choosing the winners. Voting for someone if you truly believe them to best in a category should not be an indication that you support anything other than this fact.
In 1993, the controversial yet supremely talented Charles Barkley released a commercial with Nike stating that just because he plays basketball doesn’t make him a role model (See above for commercial). Any of the nominees could be terrible people in their own day to day lives (even those who do not have controversy surrounding them – some stories just don’t become public knowledge) but as Barkley says he isn’t a role model nor should he or any other public figure have to be. Yes, children look up to these people and may even idolize them but they should be taught to learn from someone’s strengths, not their flaws. See that these people (despite their flaws) put in countless hours of dedication to their craft, to give the public a product that they can enjoy and be inspired by, teach them that they are being rewarded for their efforts, have our youth learn from the positives and our society will grow as a result.
That does not mean that public figures should be absolved of punishment or that they should be treated any differently if found guilty but rather that justice should not be delivered on the stage of an award ceremony. If they are guilty they will be punished by the law and if they are not and you still disagree with that person’s actions and/or politics/ beliefs then apply punishment by not associating with them in the future (whether that be by boycotting his products or not working with them professionally). Do not rob someone of their achievements in something that is completely separate from their personal actions outside of their work.
Unfortunately, this looks to be an issue with Oscar voters and has extended into the foreign feature category where due to the current political tensions surrounding the travel ban and the subsequent absence of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi from the ceremony as a result. it is believed voters will select Farhadi ’s film The Salesman over presumptive favorite Toni Erdmann out of protest for the actions of the current administration.
Once again, if this is the case, no matter where your politics lie, this is damaging to the integrity of the Oscars both as an award and as a symbol of cinematic excellence. To make a speech speaking out against social issues is one thing – that time is earned and the winner can do with it as they please but to take away from someone’s achievement is a travesty against the work that they have put into making great art.
These are the Oscars, not a humanitarian award so judge based on the quality of their craft not the person behind it.