Separating the Art from the Artist

Anthony Lopez, Contributing Writer

After The Atlantic published a lengthy feature detailing sexual misconduct allegations against Bryan Singer, the GLAAD media awards elected on Jan. 26 to not consider “Bohemian Rhapsody”–a film which Singer directed–for Outstanding Film. The decision shifted the spotlight from Singer alone to the work that he had a major hand in creating. GLAAD’s decision not to reward the box office hit because of Singer’s accusations begs the question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?


The article, written by Alex French and Maximilian Porter, describes several accounts of men who had encounters with Singer over the past two decades. Most had met Singer at a young age and had either been molested by him or had engaged in sexual acts with the director. Several of the men who had come forward with their stories also revealed that the aftermath of their encounters with Singer had eventually lead to a downward spiral of failed relationships, drugs, and sometimes jail time. “What if he never did this to me—would I be a different person?” one of the men wonders in the article.


It’s a terrifying series of accounts, one that is reminiscent of the many stories detailed by the victims and survivors of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Kevin Spacey. Yet, while Singer is just the most recent of these prominent figures to be placed under scrutiny, he is the only one to be in the midst of productions when the allegations against him surfaced. Even so, his most recent film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” has now received criticism for merely being associated with Singer. So while the director’s future is uncertain, the perception of his films has also forever been altered.


But how fair is this mindset? It’s common knowledge that films are not the work of just one individual; they are a product of work contributed by many different people. Singer, despite being the director, did not conceive of the film, nor did he write it, produce it, or act in it. Singer was just one cog, if a slightly bigger one, in a very large machine. To outright dismiss the film solely based on the accusations made against him seems unfair for those who labored on the film but were uninvolved in the controversy. To dismiss the chances for a Best Director nomination is understandable, but what about Rami Malek, who starred as Freddie Mercury and received universal acclaim for his performance? Are his chances at awards diminished for being part of such a production?


This is where the Singer controversy differs from that of other outed abusers from the #MeToo movement, such as Spacey. Not only is Spacey associated with the films he works on, but he also stars in them. He appears front and center, oftentimes in the leading role. How difficult would it now be to simply forget his accusations when watching “House of Cards,” a Netflix show in which he was the main protagonist? When watching a movie made by Singer, his abuse lingers in the mind. But with Spacey, his misdeeds are not forgotten.


And yet it sort of makes sense. “Bohemian Rhapsody” can no longer just be “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It is now “Bohemian Rhapsody: Directed by Someone Accused of Sexual Misconduct.” By rewarding the film, we are rewarding Singer’s efforts. After the film’s Golden Globes win for Best Picture-Drama, Singer posted a photo on Instagram (since removed) captioned, “What an honor. Thank you.” It almost leaves a sour taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?


There are so many other exposed Hollywood abusers whose works seem irreversibly changed. What are the responsibilities we accept, or the moral implications we ignore, by watching a Woody Allen film, a Morgan Freeman feature, or a Dustin Hoffman movie? All acclaimed actors, all accused of similar crimes. None of their films have literally changed; they remain as riveting as they ever were. Yet their context has now been altered. It’s an area of unprecedented concern, with no definable path to follow. But in the advent of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, and with more prominent figures having accusations leveled against them, it feels almost inevitable for such a debate to be had.

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