Art vs Artist: Where Do We Draw The Line?

Brie Larson refused to clap for Cassey Affleck as he was awarded his Oscar this season, and the world exploded in a series of back and forth re-tweets and think-pieces as everyone tried to figure out the right stance on an alleged sexual predator being rewarded – for anything he does.

Affleck is not the only man to be idealized despite his less-than-pretty history, Johnny Depp, Woody Allen, Chris Brown and Alec Baldwin are among the male celebrities accused or charged with domestic abuse, sexual or violent in nature.

Their shady histories have not stopped them from ascending to the Hollywood thrones, much less tainted their reputations in the way that one would hope a criminal be dealt with.

When Depp was accused of beating his wife, Amber Heard, we indulged in a Twitter trial, with people dividing into allegiances towards one or the other. Between defending Depp’s right to continue making films, boycotting his films, defending Heard, disparaging Heard and asking all the right questions in all the wrong places, we came back to the same question: What do we do? 

It seems that no one can find an answer. We question whether we should support these actors, write think-pieces over “politically correct” culture and wonder who gets final say.

By no means can we insinuate that Hollywood has no part in perpetuating their favoritism onto our screens, Hollywood is not faultless. Its tendency of white-washing characters of color, speaking over women who deserve to be heard, and the endless hero worship of average white men does not go unnoticed. Any press, after all, is supposed to be good press.

In an industry determined to make it out with millions, whilst investing and reinvesting in shady actors and shady movie practices, are any of us surprised that Casey Affleck was awarded? Hollywood, despite its anti-Trump rhetoric, is fairly anti-woman and anti-people-of-color, given their latest flops in regards to their casting choices in movies. But we can’t change Hollywood, can we?

To be fair, of course, it isn’t just Hollywood. The entertainment industry, in general, seems to be buckling down under their own ideologies. Chris Brown, Rihanna’s ex-boyfriend, has been accused multiple times of abuse, violence and drug abuse. And yet, Brown continues on to be a “big name” in the music industry.

So, what we can change, and where do we draw the line between what we can and cannot tolerate? The entertainment industry and art are not in the practice of policing consumption. I cannot form an opinion of you upon knowing whether or not you enjoyed Manchester by the Sea, or how many times you’ve binged Pirates of the Caribbean or how many times you’ve listened to a Chris Brown album.

The art speaks for itself, having long left the artist behind. However, the question of whether we are consuming ethical art is in itself a loaded question and depends on what we define our ethics to be.

From person to person, this will vary. Some will not find it unethical to consume white-washed media, believing that a good story can be told without having to be “politically correct” about your casting choices; others would draw the line there and insist that their entertainment should be rightfully diverse. Watching a movie starring an actor with a history of sexual assault, who plays a character with no such history is a personal choice. Art and censorship cannot and never have, existed hand-in-hand. Art opens itself to everyone, and there is no guidebook that discusses what art can be created.

We can, however, guide what art we consume. Our morals and principles make themselves apparent with our choices, with what we can and cannot tolerate to see, with who we give our money to, and who we choose to support. Maybe now, more than ever, it has become more important to decide who we want to clap for.

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