Mel Gibson was wearing a tuxedo the night I saw him. This was last December at the Critics’ Choice Awards. The Critics’ Choices Awards are like the Golden Globes in that celebrities are seated together at cozy tables, not uncomfortable velvet theater seats. I was placed in the way back (obviously) but during the live commercial breaks, I could roam free. The sight of all the stars chatting with each other in such tight quarters was overwhelming even for a jaded journalist: Tom Hanks, Warren Beatty, Nicole Kidman, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Hugh Grant, Natalie Portman and on and on. One man stood literally at the center of the action.
It was impossible to not spot him. He still had that scraggly grey beard. Andrew Garfield, who he directed in Hacksaw Ridge, stood next to him. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine greeted him, and others followed suit. Gibson’s jovial laugh echoed within his small circle. The sight was part-stunning, part-appalling. The man had spent the past decade as a pariah and punchline. He made ugly anti-Semitic remarks to an LAPD officer that pulled him over. He was recorded on tape verbally assaulting his then-girlfriend, the mother of his child. That’s Mel Gibson’s voice seething in 2010, “You look like a bitch in heat. And if you get raped by a pack of n—s it will be your fault.” Now he was being celebrated with a directing nomination, as if his only offense was a parking ticket.
The Hacksaw Ridge acclaim wasn’t a one-off. Gibson is appearing in a family-friendly mainstream comedy called Daddy’s Home 2, which opens November 10. He plays Mark Wahlberg’s dad, a nuisance to Will Ferrell and his dad (John Lithgow). Cute kids? Check. Rakish humor? Check. Twinkle in his eyes? Check. The Mel Gibson redemption arc is officially complete. The movie could very well could be hilarious good times. I’ve decided that I can’t see it and give it a fully objective review. My official reason is that I have a conflict. Still, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t think I can watch Mel Gibson in a movie and not be somewhat revolted. I’m not just saying that as a Jewish woman. I’m saying it as a human being.
This is a weird, weird time to be a movie fan. Gibson may be the least controversial of Hollywood’s current lineup of controversial figures. Harvey Weinstein, the legendary mogul who oversaw some of your favorite films of all time, has been outed as a deranged sexual predator and serial rapist. Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey was recently accused of attacking a then-14-year-old Anthony Rapp in 1986. He couched his misguided apology by claiming he was drunk at the time. Harvard Man director James Toback may have accosted up to 200 women. Roman Polanski may have raped a 10-year-old. Even men such as Ben Affleck who knew but did not nothing have been shamed. So much for using cinema as real-world escapism.
I know we’re all outraged. But I admit I’m still trying to grapple with how to separate a star’s personal problems with the work itself. I’m inclined to be a professional and put the drama aside. After all, it’s not fair to punish a bad seed when other good seeds have contributed to a quality project. That’s how the rationale goes in my head — and that’s what I told myself when I reviewed Hacksaw Ridge. But I couldn’t unhear Gibson’s words. And, in a way, I equated a great review with forgiveness. It’s OK that he did what he did and said what he said because he’s still a talented, ambitious director. Same for Nate Parker’s The Birth of A Nation last year. I liked it enough . . . and felt the need to use a disclaimer in my critique. The star and director may have raped a now-deceased girl in college but hey, he made a powerful film! See it. I guess? Nobody did, by the way.
For the disgusted paying moviegoer, the knee-jerk reaction may indeed be refusing to hand over money to a creep at best and criminal at worst. Fair. Are you going to skip the last season of House of Cards as well or does that get a pass because the Netflix membership is all-inclusive? Is American Beauty any less of a great movie because Spacey is top-billed or has his behavior ruined it? Is Baby Driver off-limits now? What about Good Will Hunting? That was greenlit by Weinstein and co-written by and costarring Affleck. For that matter, I dare you to stream a Cosby show rerun and not giggle. A step further: Woody Allen has made at least five GREAT movie since he copped to sleeping with his longtime girlfriend’s adopted daughter in the early ’90s. One of the dramas, Blue Jasmine, was on my Top 10 list for 2013.
Indeed, I’ve been known to catch the 2000 Gibson comedy What Women Want on HBO. It’s still a Nancy Meyers movie. I don’t like Gibson but I do support smart female filmmakers. Johnny Depp may have hit his then-wife Amber Heard, and I’m looking foward to seeing Murder on the Orient Express and will always love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. You see where I’m going. Try as we might, it’s impossible to be indignant and draw a hard line. Art doesn’t get an asterisk, nor should it. If we judged and dismissed every ethically loose male in Hollywood, we’d be left with Hanks and Sidney Poitier.
I don’t know the answer. And in another post, maybe I’ll delve into the gender double standard — all Meg Ryan did was have an affair with Russell Crowe and her movie career never ever recovered. All I know for sure is that the only people that have truly suffered are the victims. If nobody ever sees a Spacey movie again, he brought it onto himself. I write this post on Halloween. The scariest thought of all is that who knows how many other villains are lurking in the shadows.
Also published on Medium.