Louis C.K. seems to think it’s time he made a comeback.
C.K., who nine months ago admitted to sexually harassing multiple women, took the stage for a surprise performance last Sunday at New York’s legendary Comedy Cellar. And according to C.K.’s supporters, it’s about time.
“People have to be allowed to serve their time and move on with their lives,” wrote actor Michael Ian Black, in a tweet for which he later apologized.
“There can’t be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong,” said Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman.
Dworman doesn’t have to worry: Judging from cases like C.K.’s and Mel Gibson’s, there’s rarely a permanent life sentence for famous white men who do something wrong. History suggests they can come back from almost anything, up to and including allegations of domestic violence or sexual harassment, given enough time.
But for others, the standards are a little bit different.
Here’s what led some women in Hollywood to fall from grace — and how long it took for them to come back from it.
Time it took to come back: 14 years
In 2002, Winona Ryder was caught on camera stealing more than $5,000 worth of merchandise from a Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Ryder gamely tried to turn the scandal into a funny story — she hosted an episode of SNL filled with shoplifting jokes — but after she was sentenced to probation, community service, and a fine, her career began to fade away. Between 2002’s Mr. Deeds and the premiere of Netflix’s Stranger Things in 2016, Ryder’s most high-profile role was a tiny supporting part in Black Swan in 2010.
In a 2016 interview with Porter magazine, Ryder said she enjoyed her time out of the spotlight. “I appeared elsewhere, I promise you,” she said. “I was transformed into doing stuff I really wanted to do — it was a great awakening. It just wasn’t in the public eye.”
Sin: Acting too excited when she won her Oscar
Time it took to come back: 5 years
In 2013, Anne Hathaway won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Les Miserables, accepting the trophy with a whispered, “It came true!” She did, admittedly, sound very fake, and she would later say that she felt fake in the moment. People were outraged.
Bustle declared it “the moment when everyone turned on Anne Hathaway.”
“Oh, Anne! … Why are you so annoying?” asked Sasha Weiss on the New Yorker’s website.
The San Francisco Chronicle named her the most annoying celebrity of 2013.
Hathaway, in response, took a lengthy hiatus from the spotlight, sticking mostly to smaller movies and bit roles in ensemble casts. “My impression is that people needed a break from me,” she remarked in 2014. Arguably, she’s still taking that break: Her most high-profile role since Les Mis was as part of the ensemble in this year’s Ocean’s Eight, and while her star turn in 2017’s Colossal earned strong reviews and saw the beginning of a redemption narrative for her publicity cycle, it flopped at the box office.
Sin: Getting sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein (allegedly)
Time it took to come back: 17 years and counting
Both Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino have said that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed them in the late 1990s, when their careers were arguably at their height. (Sorvino was coming off of her Oscar-winning turn in 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, and Judd had become a major star with 1995’s Heat. They’d even co-starred together in HBO’s 1996 film Norma Jean & Marilyn.) Both actresses say that Weinstein tried to pressure them into sexual acts, and both say that they rebuffed him.
According to director Peter Jackson, he started to hear rumors about both actresses not long after they say they denied Weinstein’s advances. He was thinking about casting them both in The Lord of the Rings, but when he mentioned the idea to executives at Miramax, Weinstein’s production company, he was strongly advised to look in a different direction.
“I recall Miramax telling us they were a nightmare to work with and we should avoid them at all costs. This was probably in 1998,” Jackson said in an interview last fall. “At the time, we had no reason to question what these guys were telling us — but in hindsight, I realise that this was very likely the Miramax smear campaign in full swing. I now suspect we were fed false information about both of these talented women — and as a direct result their names were removed from our casting list.”
The last major Hollywood film in which Judd received top billing was the notorious 2004 flop Twisted. Sorvino’s was the The Triumph of Love in 2001. Neither has announced a major project since the allegations against Weinstein went public. In May, Judd announced that she was suing Harvey Weinstein.
Judd and Sorvino’s time in exile is exponentially longer than the nine months Louis C.K. spent not performing — and unlike C.K., they are not admitted sexual predators, but the reported victims of one. And they bore the punishment for what Weinstein allegedly did to them, for years.
We live in a world in which a man who confesses to sexual harassment gets to start his comeback after less than a year. Meanwhile, a woman who shoplifted has to go into exile for 14 years, a woman who acted too excited while accepting an award honoring her hard work has to go away for five years, and women who are the alleged victims of sexual predators vanish for nearly two decades.
This system is not weighted equally. It is designed to redeem men for almost anything and punish women for almost everything. The disparity is real, and it is measurable.