Watching the producers of this year’s Oscars try to navigate the Best Actor category in the year of #MeToo has been like watching the most nail-biting event in the Winter Olympics. It’s as though they’re skiing backwards down a sheer mountainside littered with men who have been accused of doing terrible things to women, and every time they come across another one the producers have to do a triple backflip over him.
It’s precarious work — and that’s because Hollywood really is positively littered with men who have been accused of doing terrible things to women, and who until very recently have suffered few consequences for it. As a result, it seems to be almost impossible to host a major Hollywood event filled with A-listers and not inadvertently include an alleged predator.
So while the producers for the Oscars have been able to evade most of these obstacles in the leadup to this weekend’s big event, they may have encountered a more hidden obstruction in the form of the winner for Best Actor, Gary Oldman, who was accused of domestic violence back in 2001. Rather surprisingly for the year of #MeToo, though, Oldman’s past hasn’t been a major story going into the Oscars. But it might not stay that way.
The shadow of #MeToo looms over the year’s Best Actor race
The strife surrounding the 2018 Best Actor Oscar actually begins with last year’s winner, Casey Affleck, who won for Manchester by the Sea. Traditionally, the previous year’s Best Actor presents the Oscar to the current year’s Best Actress — but Affleck was sued twice for sexual harassment in 2010.
That was a minor controversy when he won in 2017, before the Weinstein accusations, but it was shaping up to be a major controversy in 2018: Imagine that the Oscar for Best Actress goes to one of the women who has been campaigning to end Hollywood’s culture of systemic sexism, and she has to accept her award from a man who was accused of using his power to harass two of his employees. What terrible optics!
But Affleck withdrew from his presentation duties at the end of January and announced through a representative that he would not be attending this year’s Oscars. “We appreciate the decision to keep the focus on the show and on the great work of this year,” said a representative from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Then there was the rapid rise and fall of one of the first frontrunners in this year’s Best Actor race. James Franco looked like a major contender for his pitch-perfect portrayal of Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist — but after he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, five women accused him of sexual misconduct, alleging that he pressured actresses into performing exploitative nude scenes and sex scenes, and that he pressured girlfriends into performing unwanted sexual acts. When the Oscar nominations came out shortly afterwards, Franco wasn’t on the list.
It looked like smooth skiing ahead for the producers — but then a new frontrunner emerged in the Best Actor race. Gary Oldman, who is nominated for his role as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, was widely considered the favorite to take home the Oscar this year, a prediction that ultimately came true. But Gary Oldman has been accused of some terrible things himself.
In 2001, Oldman’s now ex-wife, Donya Fiorentino, said that Oldman choked her and beat her with a telephone in front of their young children. In an interview earlier this year with the Independent, Fiorentino reiterated her story, saying, “Our marriage was a giant car crash in which demented things happened. I lost my self-esteem...I was broken. I would rather get eaten by a great white shark than go through that marriage again.”
Oldman has denied Fiorentino’s claims, saying through a representative that the police investigated her story and pressed no charges.
It’s not only the domestic violence accusations that could shadow Oldman. In 2014, Oldman courted controversy in an interview with Playboy.
Over the course of the interview, Oldman defended Mel Gibson for his infamous anti-Semitic tirade (“We’ve all said those things. … The policeman who arrested him has never used the word ‘ni**er’ or ‘that fucking Jew’?”), lamented that Hollywood had become so politically correct that he could no longer call Nancy Pelosi “a fucking useless cunt” with impunity, and declared that the reason 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture is that people were afraid that if they didn’t vote for it, they would be considered racist.
Oldman later apologized for his interview, saying, “I don’t condone or excuse the words that I used in any context.”
Oldman’s win is not necessarily be a referendum on the Oscars themselves. It is a referendum on the structure of Hollywood — a structure that the Oscars reinforce and a structure that itself birthed the Oscars — and how it allows alleged predators to flourish in its shadows. It allows them to flourish so successfully that as hard as this year’s producers worked to keep men accused of misconduct out of the Oscars spotlight, skiing backwards at top speed with all their might, they wiped out in the end.
Update: This article has been updated to include Oldman’s Oscar win.