Back when I was starting this project, something else was also starting – the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has brought long-overdue consequences onto the heads of major perpetrators of sexual assault in many industries – including the entertainment industry – and the greater awareness of sexual violence and harassment, and improved ways to report attacks, is slowly leading to a better working environment overall. We still have a long way to go, but it’s become easier to punish perpetrators in the present, and prevent them from committing offenses in the future.
But – what about the past? What do we do about all the films that sexual predators made before we knew that’s what was going on? That’s a more complicated question that continues to be hotly debated; and there are no straightforward answers. Some people are firm advocates of “separating the art from the artist”, while others argue that consuming the art made by a sexual predator puts money in their pocket, and they’d rather not do that. And because this is a matter of individual consumption, many people make up their own individual rules; I visited some college friends, and when the Me Too fallout came up in conversation, one woman said she went by “who gets the money”. When Michael Jackson was still alive, for instance, she avoided listening to his music; but now that he’s passed and his children benefit from the estate, she’s started listening to his music again.
For me, boycotting a known perpetrator’s films was never going to be an option; there are simply too many films on this list I’d have to give up, to the point that the project would be severely hampered. I also had a front-row seat to an incident that reminded me how boycotting a perpetrator’s film can have innocent victims….
I’ve mentioned that I’m “Facebook friends” with the actor Colman Domingo. Colman and I worked on a play in about 2003, just before things started to take off for him, and he was one of the first people to send me a friend request when I joined Facebook a year later. And so I’ve been honored to watch first-hand as he’s gone from doing extra work on film and TV, to character roles on Broadway, to a TONY nomination, to starring on Broadway, to character roles in movies and TV, to starring roles in TV – to where he is now, an Emmy-winning actor with his own production company, getting shortlisted for an Oscar this year, an upcoming travel show with Anthony Bourdain’s old collaborators, and his first starring role in a film coming up in the fall.
Back in 2015 or so, he was working on a film about the Nat Turner slave rebellion – and he was delighted to be working on it. He gushed often about how wonderful the writing was, the importance of the story it was telling, and how honored and grateful he was to be a part of this film. He couldn’t wait for it to come out, and I couldn’t wait to see it.
But then that film, titled The Birth of a Nation, was released. And soon after news started to swirl of a past rape allegation against Nate Parker, the film’s star and director. That news dominated the movie’s coverage – even one of the film’s stars spoke out against Parker after hearing the news – and ultimately, the movie tanked. Colman was philosophical about it all, but after having read how excited he’d been while filming, my heart broke for him. Because while the truth about Parker’s acts are still a bit murky, I knew for a certainty that Colman hadn’t done anything wrong – and yet he was still being punished for Parker’s actions. And that didn’t sit right with me.
And that informed how I approach a film with a questionable person – I remove that person from discussions of the film wherever possible. So I’ll speak of Annie Hall as being a Diane Keaton film, or of The Usual Suspects as being a Gabriel Byrne film. It honors their work, and the work itself, while not giving the single nasty character any attention. …The only challenge there is – if I’m writing a review of Annie Hall or a similar film, I’m still going to have to refer to that nasty character somehow – it would quickly get very silly if I spoke of how Diane Keaton fares in her scenes opposite “that guy whose name I don’t want to mention” or suchlike.
So for that – I’ve come up with a slightly silly solution.
For many years, directors used the pseudonym “Alan Smithee” if they wanted to publicly disown one of their works over a lack of creative control. The Directors’ Guild frowned on directors using pseudonyms, but many directors have struggled with studios meddling with their work, in some cases to the point that they felt the finished film hadn’t really been “their” work. So the DGA allowed that one pseudonym under those specific conditions. It’s only been used a handful of times, and often only for the “edited for television” version of a given film; David Lynch used “Alan Smithee” for the broadcast television edit of Dune, for instance.
I’m using a similar tactic – I use the name “Sid Meniscus” as a pseudonym for any actor or filmmaker who’s a known perpetrator of sexual misconduct. I’m sticking to the actual perpetrators as well, as opposed to men who witnessed and said nothing; they didn’t help, but there are many reasons why someone could choose not to report attempted assaults (as many of the victims of sexual assault could tell you).
….and I will not be linking to a web page with their actual name or anything like that. In many cases, you’d likely be able to guess; and if not, you can always Google it yourself if you want to know that badly. But – better you didn’t, let their true names rot in the dust.