Casey Affleck has won over a dozen awards, including a Golden Globe, for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, and with Tuesday's nominations he became a favorite to win the best actor Oscar in February. Though expected, the news has elicited objections from actors, activists and commentators on the grounds the Academy disregarded sexual harassment allegations made in two settled lawsuits against the 41-year-old actor. The most outspoken critic has been Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu, who posted a series of strongly worded tweets shortly after the nominations. A number of entertainment outlets also published or re-promoted stories about Affleck.
Here is what you need to know about the controversy:
The allegations date from seven years ago.
In 2010, two women who had worked on Affleck’s experimental film I’m Still Here filed sexual harassment suits against him. One of the women claimed that Affleck crawled into bed with her without her consent while she was asleep. He allegedly pressured the other woman to stay in his hotel room and “violently grabbed [her] arm in an effort to intimidate her into staying” when she refused, according to the complaint.
The women claimed he verbally disparaged them and directed a subordinate to expose himself to one of them, among other types of misconduct. They also said that Affleck and the film's star, Joaquin Phoenix, locked themselves in the women's shared hotel room with two other women, allegedly to have sex with them. The full complaints are available here and here.
The claims were settled out of court.
Affleck was sued for $2 million by one woman and $2.25 million by the other. Both cases were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2010.
Affleck has repeatedly denied the allegations.
At the time the suits were filed, Affleck denied the claims and threatened to countersue. Affleck's lawyer initially told People: “The complaint will be vigorously defended and cross-claims will be filed.” They never did counter-sue and settled out of court.
When he was profiled by the New York Times in 2016, he responded to the allegations via email. "It was settled to the satisfaction of all. I was hurt and upset—I am sure all were—but I am over it,” he wrote. “It was an unfortunate situation—mostly for the innocent bystanders of the families of those involved.”
In a Variety cover story last fall, Affleck said: “People say whatever they want. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond... I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be because everybody has families and lives.”
Affleck's critics fault the Academy for recognizing him.
Journalists, from FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver to New York Times and New York Magazine writer Angelica Jade and Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers, have called out Affleck on Twitter, as has actress Wu.
The thrust of the critics' arguments is that receiving an Oscar—even just being nominated—will likely lead to Affleck gaining more power, money and influence in Hollywood. Granting men accused of hurting women more power, they say, perpetuates a cycle of sexism in the industry. Jade, for instance, argued it was hypocritical for the Academy to promote greater diversity (including gender diversity) at the same time as nominating Affleck.
Wu wrote, "He’s running for an award that honors a craft whose purpose is examining the dignity of the human experience & young women are deeply human" and then went on to suggest that the clout of the Affleck family has kept some silent in Hollywood. (Actor Matt Damon produced Manchester by the Sea.) She tweeted, "I've been counseled not to talk about this for career's sake. F my career then, I'm a woman & human first. That's what my craft is built on."
Affleck seemed to address the controversy at the Golden Globes.
During his acceptance speech, Affleck alluded to the "noise" that comes with fame, which some interpreted as a reference to the lawsuits and the press surrounding them. “Despite how I might think I’m in charge at my house, it’s my kids who give me permission to do this because they have got the strength of character to keep at bay all the noise that sometimes surrounds people who live publicly,” he said. (A few outlets also noted that actress Brie Larson, who presented Affleck with his award at the Globes, did not hug him or shake his hand as is customary.)
The case has drawn comparisons to other high-profile scandals in Hollywood.
The Academy has a long history with nominees who have been accused of misconduct. Roman Polanski fled the country after he was arrested for and pled guilty to the rape of a 13-year-old girl and has since won an Oscar. Woody Allen has been accused of sexually abusing his adopted daughter but has been honored by the Oscars.
Many have argued that Affleck's nomination is just the latest example of the Academy's longstanding tradition of ignoring harassment allegations. This argument was bolstered by this year's surprise nomination of Mel Gibson, who was caught on tape in a drunken anti-Semitic rant in 2006 and later pled no contest to misdemeanor battery in 2011 for hitting his ex-girlfriend repeatedly in the face.