How long should someone who has been accused of sexual misconduct wait — or be exiled — before they can be allowed to make a career comeback? Or perhaps the question is: should they ever be allowed to make one at all?
For comedian Louis C.K., who was accused by multiple women of asking or forcing them to watch him masturbate over the course of his career, it was only a matter of months before he was making stand-up appearances at New York’s Comedy Cellar and a mere two years before he was back out on tour, albeit to far less recognisable cities then he previously would have added to his itinerary.
For Armie Hammer, accused of a variety of transgressions from cannibalism to rape and physical abuse, the allegations meant being removed from every film project he was attached to and a pending LAPD investigation.
And, for former Midas-touch producer Harvey Weinstein, his guilty verdict for committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape means that the once all-mighty mogul will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, having been sentenced to 23 years in prison.
The three aforementioned cases immediately point to the fact that when it comes to these types of crimes, which the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement brought into focus, there is no one-size-fits-all response for what is undeniably an increasingly complex social issue.
The Case Against Kevin Spacey
In the case of Kevin Spacey, it seems the actor is certainly angling for a comeback, almost four years after the allegations against him were first surfaced. After being accused by Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp of making unwanted sexual advances toward him when he was only 14, Spacey used his Twitter account to apologise to Rapp while simultaneously announcing that he was gay in a move that most saw as an obvious attempt at deflection of responsibility.
The two-time Oscar-winning actor was dropped from his hit Netflix series House of Cards as further allegations came to light, and Spacey, along with his career, went quiet. In 2018, he pled not guilty to an indecent assault charge involving a teenage boy on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts with the charge being dropped after the alleged victim also withdrew a civil lawsuit.
In Los Angeles, the actor was able to avoid two sexual assault claims going any further — one due to the statute of limitations, the other after the alleged victim died. He is still, however, potentially facing criminal charges in the UK where he stands accused of perpetrating “inappropriate behaviour” over an 11-year period during which he served as artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London.
Recently, the American Beauty star appeared in a supporting role in an Italian indie film, causing immediate and forceful backlash from those who believe the actor does not deserve a second chance.
One of Spacey’s alleged victims told Variety, “In most other similar circumstances in society, there’s an element of contrition required before you reintegrate. That hasn’t existed at all.”
Apologies Are Not Enough
So, assuming that a disgraced performer (the profession we will focus on purely for the purpose of this article) has expressed recognition and remorse for their actions and not simply offered a blanket apology that manages to both evade responsibility and suggest that the victim misinterpreted their “sense of humour” — how long should they take a step back for before attempting a comeback? And, if they resume creating films, TV shows and music will audiences ever be able to separate the artist from their art?
As one of our writers from The Latch noted, the willingness to forgive a celebrity’s wrongdoings will be directly impacted by ones own personal experience. That is to say, “if you feel like Michael Jackson’s music or Woody Allen’s movies got you through a tough time in your life, made you feel less alone or more seen in this world, then you’re likely going to be more willing to give them a second chance than, say, if you’ve been a victim of domestic violence being asked to forgive Chris Brown.”
Considering the Optics
Another complex factor is the optics of allowing performers to return to work — and typically very lucrative work at that — which can be perceived as allowing them to act with impunity. In the absence of a discernible moral compass what incentive is there for perpetrators to not abuse their power and commit sexual crimes if they can act as they please, retreat from public life for a time (while still financially benefitting from previous projects, royalties and residuals) and then return with a clean slate?
Not to mention, if one disgraced star is welcomed back to set, how can others be denied the same right? Clearly, sorting their alleged transgressions into buckets based on severity is not a viable solution as it inexplicably assigns greater or lesser value to the experience of victims — who may also feel subsequently traumatised or invalidated by the reappearance of their alleged abuser. Conversely, should a person accused of verbal sexual harassment, perpetrated once, suffer the same ramifications as one who faces allegations of ongoing physical offences?
The Right to Grow and Learn
As another of our writers opined, “People have a right to grow from the things they’ve done, and there are definitely ways to go about this that are better than others. I actually think that a lot can be learnt from the experiences of the perpetrators, as there are so many people that still exist in the world and do awful things that need to be exposed and talked about and broken down to better our societal understanding.
Offered another member of our team, “I think if they truly make amends, own up to it, and if they prove, over many years, that they’re a different, better person, I think they should be allowed back into public life,” before sadly noting that they could not think of anyone who actually fits this description.
The Role We Play
Ultimately, a person’s ability to make a comeback, if they indeed attempt to make one, comes down to the public and our willingness to once more purchase tickets to their films, stream their shows or download their music. The entertainment industry, after all, is driven by the dollar.
As we have seen in spades since the onset of the #MeToo and Time’s Up Movement, the court of public opinion is (whether rightly or wrongly) is typically where the power lies — making it our collective responsibility to either enable one’s triumphant return or close the curtain on them forever.