If we’ve learned anything since last October, it’s that show business is one big game of six degrees of “ugh, him too?!”
There are the outed creeps themselves, a dismayingly large but at least still quantifiable group. But there is also an alarming number of people who worked with the creeps and had no idea. Or, maybe, they had the exact same set of evidence that those in the know had, but they were incapable of processing that evidence accordingly.
Namely, it didn’t happen to them. When you don’t have a problem with someone whom you’ve always gotten along with, it can be a real mind-blower—not to mention a real inconvenience—to hear that the person did bad things. And it can be challenging to make your brain, which knows better, match up with your feelings, which are muddled.
As much as we’ve seen some really famous people, male and female, step forward and say awesome things—about equality, about fairness, about justice, about the need to do better—we’ve seen plenty of them (yes, mostly men) fumble the hot potato when it finally lands in their hands.
Which, with the pace that the unearthing of the mistreatment of women, and men, is going in Hollywood, it inevitably will. And there is no such thing as a re-take when you flub your line.
Add Jason Bateman to the list of guys who didn’t even hit the rim when the ball showed up in his court.
Jeffrey Tambor, his longtime TV dad on Arrested Development, ignominiously exited his Amazon series Transparent under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations back in February. At the same time, Arrested Development was returning to Netflix for a fifth season (which was almost done shooting already when the allegations came out), with the dysfunctional Bluth family intact.
Yet people out in the world minded that Tambor was waltzing from one job to another. The two-time Emmy winner sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to try to clear the air; he admitted to being “volatile and ill-tempered,” prone to expressing his opinions “harshly and without tact. But I have never been a predator—ever.”
In the interview, Tambor mentioned a past “blowup” with Arrested Development co-star Jessica Walter for which he had “profusely apologized.” Walter’s rep replied that she didn’t wish to talk about the actor. Walter later told Entertainment Weekly that she was still “privately processing my feelings about the way I was treated by him,” but “never saw anything from him that crossed the line” regarding sexual harassment.
“It was very jarring,” Tony Hale told EW, regarding Tambor. “That was not my experience at all with him.” Series creator Mitch Hurwitz said that Tambor “was as surprised by [the accusations] as I was.” Hurwitz added that neither he, Netflix nor 20th Century Fox Television had received any sexual-misconduct complaints about the actor and “we all stand with victims of sexual abuse.”
Best case scenario, it sounds as if Tambor treated people on set like crap at will, whether it was his assistant or a newcomer actress, as was the reported case on Transparent, or a fellow veteran star, like Walter.
Part of the nausea factor about Harvey Weinstein, the nailing to the wall of whom helped unleash the #MeToo movement in all its current, frantically-making-up-for-lost-time glory, was about the fact that, aside from the horrible sexual misconduct he’s accused of (some of which is expected to result in criminal charges), he got away with being a complete bully toward women and men for decades. Drunk with power, he yelled and ranted and used his imposing physical presence and seemingly endless connections to intimidate. But people lined up to do business with him all the same.
So back to Arrested Development, where, best-case scenario, people were aware that Jeffrey Tambor had a bad temper.
Though it wasn’t a secret, the wounded feelings all came pouring out in a New York Times sit-down with the cast, during which they discussed the verbal harassment Tambor admitted to and which he insisted he was still learning from and working on to better himself and make amends.
And then Bateman chimed in. “Again, not to belittle it or excuse it or anything, but in the entertainment industry it is incredibly common to have people who are, in quotes, ‘difficult,'” the actor, who at another point in the interview said he wouldn’t do a season six without Tambor, said. “And when you’re in a privileged position to hire people, or have an influence in who does get hired, you make phone calls. And you say, ‘Hey, so I’ve heard X about person Y, tell me about that.’ And what you learn is context. And you learn about character and you learn about work habits, work ethics, and you start to understand. Because it’s a very amorphous process, this sort of bulls–t that we do, you know, making up fake life. It’s a weird thing, and it is a breeding ground for atypical behavior and certain people have certain processes.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and the point is that things are changing and people need to respect each other differently,” interjected Alia Shawkat, who as a 29-year-old woman is simply going to be more tuned into this ongoing sea change than Bateman would be, no matter his best intentions.
Walters continued, through tears, “Let me just say one thing that I just realized in this conversation. I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go…But it’s hard because honestly—Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now. I just let it go right here, for The New York Times.”
And then a beat later Tony Hale added, “But I will say, to Jason’s point, we can be honest about the fact that—and not to build a thing—we’ve all had moments.”
Oh, Buster, and Gary from Veep. Maybe if you don’t understand the question, you don’t respond to it.
This isn’t to say Bateman and Hale were once filed under “good guys” and now they’re not. And who’s to say that Tambor, who’s a father of four and has been married to his second wife since 2001, deserves to have no one in his corner? And who better to talk about what goes on among actors than actors, so long as they’re speaking frankly? And it’s better that they speak frankly, right?
But that doesn’t prevent the disappointment that comes from Bateman, the guy who reportedly spit his gum in Andre Balazs‘ face after the actor’s wife accused the hotelier of groping her, blathering on about “processes” to explain away someone being verbally abused.
Didn’t he get the memo from Matt Damon?
Damon was correct when he said in December, “There’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated, without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”
Yet no one was really looking for the mitigating male movie star perspective at that moment. (Especially from someone who was accused of helping to bury a previous story about Weinstein that could have blown the lid off of some of his behavior years ago. Damon denied doing anything of the sort.) The backlash was ruthless.
And then he doubled down on what was received as a bizarre display of self-righteousness when he told Business Insider a week later, “We’re in this watershed moment, and it’s great, but I think one thing that’s not being talked about is there are a whole s–tload of guys—the preponderance of men I’ve worked with—who don’t do this kind of thing and whose lives aren’t going to be affected.”
After the hangover had worn off from that big congratulatory man party he must have thrown, however, Damon got the point.
“I really wish I’d listened a lot more before I weighed in on this,” he said on Today. “I don’t want to further anybody’s pain with anything that I do or say. So for that I am really sorry.”
Damon continued, “A lot of those women are my dear friends and I love them and respect them and support what they’re doing and want to be a part of that change and want to go along for the ride, but I should get in the back seat and close my mouth for a while.”
Actions are going to speak louder than words—for everybody—in the end, so a little mud on Damon’s face wasn’t going to dirty his name forever.
Yet despite presumably having gotten wind of the reaction to Damon, or at least to others who have had some rather tone-deaf moments, Jason Bateman thought he had a point. He was quickly apprised that it wasn’t a great one.
“Based on listening to the NYT interview and hearing people’s thoughts online, I realize that I was wrong here,” he tweeted Thursday. “I sound like I’m condoning yelling at work. I do not. It sounds like I’m excusing Jeffery. I do not. It sounds like I’m insensitive to Jessica. I am not. In fact, I’m-horrified that I wasn’t more aware of how this incident affected her.
“I was so eager to let Jeffrey know that he was supported in his attempt to learn, grow and apologize that I completely underestimated the feelings of the victim, another person I deeply love – and she was.. … sitting right there! I’m incredibly embarrassed and deeply sorry to have done that to Jessica. This is a big learning moment for me. I shouldn’t have tried so hard to mansplain, or fix a fight, or make everything okay. I should’ve focused more on what the most important… ..part of it all is – there’s never any excuse for abuse, in any form, from any gender. And, the victim’s voice needs to be heard and respected. Period. I didn’t say that and instead said a bunch of other stuff and not very well. I deeply, and sincerely, apologize.”
Tony Hale, too, saw the error of his ways, tweeting, “I have reached out to Jessica personally to apologize. Arrested Development is one of my families. Regardless of my intentions, it is clear that my words, both said and unsaid, served to minimize Jessica’s pain and for that I am extremely sorry.”
A lot of energy has been wasted in over-churned outrage, people whipping themselves into a frenzy over any slight, often too hastily and without having identified the crux of the matter. We don’t mean only since October, when so many of us discovered that we were absolutely right to be outraged, as well as appalled, disgusted and terrified—but also hopeful, because just as Twitter bullying ultimately brings out the chivalrous defenders, the unearthing of problems also hastens the bringing forth of solutions.
Outrage culture has been percolating for years, and the latest knee-jerk calls for firings and boycotts, pronouncements of careers dropping dead and the ensuing arguments between those who have a one-strike-and-you’re-out mentality and those who are merely suggesting we wait a beat are an organic offshoot of that.
However, the outrage over the mistreatment of women is operating at fever pitch now because of the years spent watching strikes pile up with no outs. It was game over for no one, ever, for years. Darn straight the bad guys should be shamed and thrown out of the game.
Yet just as political parties have fractured into segments that more or less agree but will bicker endlessly about the other segments not doing it right, so have groups of people who ultimately want the same thing when it comes to working in Hollywood (and government, and the media, and business, and everywhere else human beings have to interact, from the workplace to walking down the street).
Matt Damon learned. Alec Baldwin learned it as a stalwart, innocent-until-proven-guilty defender of Woody Allen and then James Toback (though Baldwin, in explaining his take on the #MeToo movement, pretty much shrugged off any criticism). Armie Hammerfound out on the flip side when he questioned in The Hollywood Reporter why Oscar winner Casey Affleck, accused in a lawsuit of sexual harassment, hadn’t been treated to the same level of scrutiny as filmmaker Nate Parker, whose buzzed-about Birth of a Nation (which Hammer was in) sank under the weight of a two-decade-old rape charge of which he was acquitted.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to Casey and his family for my recent comments,” Hammer followed up in a statement to THR. “…I misspoke. I conflated sexual harassment cases with a criminal case involving sexual assault charges…While intending to make a social comment about double standards in general, I mistakenly compared reports of prior, public civil allegations that never proceeded to trial with a criminal case that was fully tried. I understand now that this was a poor comparison, which I deeply regret making.”
You simply have to get your facts straight when it comes to civil vs. criminal cases, but you can bet some people thought no apology was necessary. Affleck didn’t skip the Oscars this year, where tradition would’ve called for him to present Best Actress, because he was busy that night. Public opinion, already wavering in early 2017, had caught up to Affleck’s Best Actor pre-#MeToo win.
Yet while reckonings are all the rage, so are forgiveness and excuses. Men who say they’re appalled and women who are leading the charge for change have also been busy rationalizing like mad. You can’t walk 2 feet in TV, film, music and media and not run into someone who either knows something, has heard something, or has worked with—or is still working with—someone who’s been accused of behaving badly (or someone very close to them).
A lot of “I only know what I know, and I just don’t know about that” takes place, even among those who the day before may have been going to town on someone else online.
In the wake of sexual misconduct accusations against James Francothat were reported in the Los Angeles Times, Judd Apatowone of the male power players in Hollywood who’s said some phenomenal things in the wake of #MeToo yet still found himself linked to one of the alleged villains—knew that nothing good would come from trying to publicly parse words about his longtime friend.
“Well, I’m not going to go into all my conversations with everybody,” the filmmaker told Slash Film in March. “Oddly enough, I know an enormous amount of accusers and people who are being accused. I feel like in brief articles you can’t really get into the depth that you need to in order to be thoughtful and honest about it. Everybody wants that because it’s all click bait, but these situations are very complicated and they raise an enormous amount of questions. That doesn’t mean I let anybody off the hook for anything, but they’re not simple. We have a long way to go to figure out how we want to handle all of it.”
What we do know is that people are going to continue to say questionable things. They’re also going to continue to say inspiring, wonderful things. The fact that both will get backlash from others who don’t agree or who have their own agenda should be a warning that the real fight is elsewhere. While it can be very satisfying in the moment to charge into a skirmish over the dumb thing someone said, to lob a Twitter grenade at Jason Bateman or Matt Damon and watch it explode, energy needs to be saved for the long haul.
As Ashley Judd, whose decision to speak out about Weinstein helped open the floodgates, said in appreciating Franco’s response to the claims against him, “I think that we’ve all behaved, at a certain level, unconsciously, and done things that were insensitive, inappropriate, without necessarily understanding that they were. I mean, we’ve all operated with a certain amount of tone deafness, and I like the culpability, and we have to have restorative justice.”
Those who mean well and are trying to work these fraught times out in their heads (and sometimes ill-advisedly on Twitter and in interviews), may deserve some heat, but it’s still important not to mistake them for those whose actions are the real problem. Set the mansplainers straight, and move on.