Kevin Spacey's betrayal of the LGBT community was brutal. But as more and more stories come out, all of us have some thinking to doby Caspar Salmon / November 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
In the late 90s and early 2000s, those of us who had come of age with Kevin Spacey’s films talked among ourselves of our desire for him to come out. His sexuality, never averred, started to become something of an open secret. Of all the dozens of closeted actors in Hollywood, he felt like a good bet to disclose his sexuality. He had a certain everyman quality. He was an Oscar-winning movie star, but not gorgeous or ritzy; his roles hinged on his perceived ordinariness. But Spacey disavowed the gay community, seeming to see his sexuality as a hindrance to his success. And no-one who knew what being openly gay could do to someone’s career could begrudge him his reluctance. But over time his unwillingness to own his sexuality calcified; it began to feel like a rebuke, and a taunt.
I thought again of my initial feelings about him as a young filmgoer this week when I read Spacey’s disastrous, hateful comments accompanying his “coming out” in the wake of Anthony Rapp’s accusation that the actor attempted to molest him as a teenager. His betrayal of the LGBT community was brutal.
On the day of the revelations, I remembered my youth, when gay people were routinely associated with paedophilia in casual conversation, banter, insults, culture and (tacitly) legislation. Homosexuals were still perceived, in this time, as faintly tragic: if AIDS didn’t get you, it was the inevitable loneliness of the creepy old homo that you had to fear—the leering Latin teacher, the catty bow-tied concert-hall artist; Quentin Crisp, or Uncle Monty. In France, where I grew up, the preferred gay slur was (and still is) pédé, a derivation of pederast.
I felt real pain recalling thoughtlessly hateful comments from loved ones. I remembered how, when growing up, it didn’t seem there was much of a future for me as a gay man. The damage that Spacey has inflicted with these words, which threw a whole community that had long hoped to welcome him under the bus, is real.
Since the Spacey allegations came to light, further concerns have been raised about (amongst others) Brett Ratner and John Grissom. More is to come, if rumours are to be believed. And there are plenty of rumours. If Weinsteingate can be said to have done one thing, it’s to cement the fact that “there’s no smoke without the fire” is the truest of all proverbs.
Everyone who writes about film has a Spacey story; a lot of young Londoners have a pal who got chatted up when he was nineteen. The question now is to disentangle where Spacey’s behaviour went from the lecherous to the abusive; to separate the under-age from the just-of-age.
More importantly, his behaviour will need to be placed in context. First, there is what looks to be a confraternity of abuse among the so-called West Hollywood party scene, famously hinted at last year by Elijah Wood.
One name that was repeatedly mentioned after the Spacey revelations emerged was that of Bryan Singer, who directed Spacey in The Usual Suspects and Superman Returns. Allegations against Singer have never stuck and his only open accuser so far, Michael Egan, was publicly and dramatically judged by his lawyers to have fabricated his account of abuse. (Singer has denied any wrongdoing.)
A year ago, the actor Noah Galvin was made to apologise and retract his comment, in an interview, that “Bryan Singer likes to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the f—ing dark of night”, after Singer’s lawyers intervened.
But you don’t need to be Woodward and Bernstein to find further allegations of abuse or harassment perpetrated by Singer: there are many carefully-worded articles on the internet going as far as they can without incurring risk of litigation.
The second context Spacey’s actions must be read within is the wider issue of men’s abuse of power. This started with Weinstein, and it must be remembered at all turns that the people at greatest risk of men’s predation and harassment are still women.
A voice must be given to people who have had no power until now—first and foremost by journalists and investigators able to grant the cover of anonymity. It feels at the moment as if we’re merely waiting for victims—preferably famous ones—to come forward of their own volition. But the culture of speaking out must be enabled, and the conditions are clearly still not in place for sufferers to come forward.
We must also question the structures that allow abuse to occur. Too much of the conversation so far has centred on individuals: the men who used their power to exploit and abuse young and vulnerable people, and then silence them.
But the institutions that supported these abusers, often turning a blind eye to their proclivities, must also be held to account. The Old Vic theatre has released an ambiguous statement both distancing itself from Spacey’s actions and asking for any victims to come forward; going only on what I have heard, it seems astounding that no reports of Spacey’s behaviour reached the high-ups. Similarly, the Cannes film festival issued a statement decrying Weinstein’s actions in the week after Ronan Farrow’s story: Florence Darel, who was harassed by Weinstein in the early 90s, was scornful, suggesting on the TV show Quotidien that the festival would have to have known what was going on in the same hotel year after year.
The Oscars have chucked now Weinstein out—but Roman Polanski, who has been found guilty of underage rape and has been accused by four more women, is still an Academy member with a win for Best Director. More men who have been publicly accused of harassment or assault of women have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar than all female directors put together.
But the cleaning up operation doesn’t stop at the institutions who support abusers and don’t promote women—studios, festivals, awards, distributors, the media. It comes down to us. We must all start to educate ourselves, and exercise discrimination in terms of whose books we will buy, whose films we will suffer to watch.
Apparently, no-one will stop Johnny Depp appearing in films any time soon—but we can find out online about allegations of violent assault against Amber Heard, and judge for ourselves whether to finance his work.
In this respect, it seems like insular madness not to ask questions about the place of twink culture within the gay world: the way youth and innocence are valorised, and vulnerability eroticised, is a difficult topic to address, but we can’t shy from it.
While Spacey’s statement was wrong and damaging, we mustn’t let it stop us asking whether we ourselves promote a harmful ideal, resting on an imbalance of power and the taboo of underage sexuality? Dan Savage tweeted this week, jokingly and righteously, that Spacey’s application to join the gay community had been denied: but we shouldn’t wash our hands of him just yet.