Manchester By the Sea director defends Casey Affleck over sexual harassment allegations

Kenneth Lonergan writes scathing rebuke of student journalist's column about Oscar winner

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The Independent Culture

Kenneth Lonergan has defended Casey Affleck against scrutiny over his sexual harassment allegations.

The Manchester by the Sea director, who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, has written a scathing rebuke of a column written about Affleck in a student newspaper.

Lonergan, a former student of Wesleyan University, argued The Wesleyan Argus article was a “tangle of illogic, misinformation and flat-out slander”.

The article Lonergan is referring to was titled “How Wesleyan is complicit in Affleck’s sexual misconduct by Endorsing Lonergan ‘84’”. Written by Connor Aberle, assistant opinion editor for the student paper, the piece suggested Affleck’s Oscar win was “severely problematic”.

The column argued Affleck, who won the Oscar Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea, has been able to simply deny the allegations levelled against him and return to a successful film career with no consequences. It insisted the academy’s decision to bestow Lonergan with the most coveted accolade in the industry “implicitly” endorsed his “moral character”. 

The journalist took aim at the university for heaping praise upon Lonergan, an alumni of the private liberal arts Connecticut institution, for his Oscar win without stopping to consider the allegations launched against the film’s star actor.

“A famous actor’s connections enable them to continue their success, and we must be cautious about praising enablers, especially when they help sexual harasser,” he wrote. “Wesleyan University has an obligation to reject sexual violence of all kinds. Therefore, it cannot claim credit for Lonergan’s success without also recognising his role in promoting Casey Affleck’s career.” 

Incensed by the article, Lonergan decided to tear it apart in an open letter to the student paper. Appearing visibly angry in the piece, the acclaimed director suggested Aberle’s “warped PC-fueled sense of indignation” was the result of his youthfulness. 

He condemned the student journalist’s “random use of the terms 'sexual misconduct', 'sexual harassment', 'sexual abuse' and 'sexual violence' as if they were legally or physically interchangeable” and criticised him for not using the word “alleged” in his Op-Ed.

Lonergan argued the article had been penned as if Affleck was definitely guilty. Standing up for the actor, he emphasised the fact he had vigorously denied the allegations. 

“Somebody as interested in actual as opposed to merely vocalised social justice as Mr Aberle presumably is, should unwind his tangled, immoral chain of reasoning and start over at the fundamental precept that an allegation is not an indictment,” he wrote.

Ironically, Lonergan’s scathing response is likely to have given the original comment piece more attention than it would have otherwise received.

Affleck faced two sexual assault harassment allegations in 2010. He has been confronted with fresh scrutiny over the historical allegations since his acclaimed portrayal of a grief-stricken divorcee father has brought him further into the limelight.

Producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka sued for $2m and $2.25m respectively over alleged offences during the filming of the mockumentary I'm Still Here which stars Joaquin Phoenix.

In the original allegations, Ms White alleged that Affleck referred to women as “cows”, groped her when she rejected his sexual advances and instructed a camera operator to flash his genitals at her on several occasions. Ms Gorka claimed she was confronted with a “near daily barrage of sexual comments, innuendo and unwelcome advances” from fellow crew members who were encouraged by Affleck.

Brie Larson refuses to applaud Casey Affleck's Oscar win

Affleck has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations and settled both claims out of court in 2010. While actual details of the deal remain secret, Ms Gorka and Ms White’s complaints continue to be online on the public record.

Media commentators have condemned the academy for bestowing Affleck with award upon award in recent months and suggested he has not been sufficiently scrutinised for the allegations due to his big Hollywood family name and privilege as a wealthy white man.

Brie Larson, an advocate for sexual assault survivors, looked visibly unimpressed and refused to clap when she presented Affleck with the gong for Best Actor at the 89th Academy Awards. Her apparent protest delighted many on Twitter who lambasted the academy for granting him the accolade. 

Affleck, who is the younger brother of Hollywood star Ben, took home the BAFTA, Golden Globe, Gotham, Critic’s Choice, and National Board of Review awards for his performance in Manchester by the Sea.