Separating art from the artist

Sonja Tutty

Harvey Weinstein has been convicted of rape and faces 23 years of prison, undoubtedly a life sentenced for the 68-year-old.

Now having tested positive for COVID-19 or the coronavirus, Weinstein’s life is hanging by a thread and his career in film production has been destroyed.

While it was general knowledge and now a court conviction that he is a sex offender, his films still remain critically acclaimed. His company, The Weinstein Company was founded in 2005 by him and his brother Bob Weinstein, and has produced critically acclaimed films like Inglorious Bastards, The King’s Speech, The Imitation Game, and has even played a role in the TV series Peaky Blinders.

But, now that Weinstein is a convicted sex offender, many are struggling to decide if it is ethical to watch any of these films. And it begs the question, “can we separate art from the artist?”

Chair of DCU Feminist Society, Eimear Kelly helped shine light on the topic. She said the issue is extremely difficult and nuanced due to several factors, “like the cultural impact of the work, the degree of wrong done by the person, whether the person at the centre of it is still enjoying the monetary benefits of the piece.”

Kelly went onto explain that certain situations are very clearly unethical, such as Roman Polanski receiving the Best Director award at the Cesar Awards. She said, “I don’t think there can ever be justification for praising these people, like the Cesar Awards did with Polanski.”

Polanski is wanted in America for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl since the 1970s. He fled America to France before he could formally be sentenced, and has avoided extradition or visiting countries that are more likely to send him back to America.

However, she said it can be difficult to find “non-problematic” works, especially in terms of classics. “I don’t think it’s worthwhile throwing away all work made prior to a certain point just because the creators were bad people.”

“I think it’s important to be critical of works where the person has a particular sway on the overall content of the work, people like Woody Allen and Polanski for example, because oftentimes their toxic views spill into the content.”

UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group, opted for the complete removal of music created by anyone found guilty of sexual and domestic abuse on platforms like Spotify. This list of musicians included R. Kelly, Tay-K, XXXTentacion, Chris Browne, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and 6ix9ine.

But, DJ Sam Clarke said that you can’t give a yes or no answer to separating music from the musician.

“It just has to be taken in a case by case scenario. You can’t just blanket it. Like Chris Brown punched Rihanna so for ages no one would listen to him, but then he brought out a new album and suddenly everyone liked him again. I can enjoy a Chris Brown feature on a song, but I can’t buy his album. I just can’t support that.”

Clarke added that in many cases it is extremely clear but little action was taken, “R.Kelly is a monster, but it was known for years and his music was still being produced.”

“But if you look at Michael Jackson and what he allegedly did or didn’t do it’s a bit trickier because first of all he isn’t alive to defend himself…but are you not going to listen to Thriller or even the Jackson five from when he was just a kid?” He said.

Additionally, he said some music is so exceptional that many people struggle to turn it off even when the artist is problematic.

“Like, that song is an amazing song regardless, but they are a monster.” And added,  “No one is not going to watch a movie by the The Weinstein Company.”

Another key factor to keep in mind is whether the artist has faced punishment or paid for their actions, he said.

While it is a victory for many to see Harvey Weinstein  convicted and sentenced to prison, it’s important to balance his punishment with the pain his victims endured. Alongside the original trauma, the risk of re-trauma when coming forward about their experience – especially when having to relive the experience during investigation and court – is excruciating.

So, while Weinstein suffers from the coronavirus and will likely live the rest of his life in prison it may be fine to watch Inglorious Bastards or binge Peaky Blinders which he had no direct involvement in and can’t monetarily benefit from anymore.

But out of respect for victims of sexual violence, it’s best not to go anywhere near Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy or Chris Browne’s hit Freaky Friday. There are plenty of great artists to replace these ones.

After discussing Chris Browne, Clarke added, “I would much rather support Rihanna, who also makes amazing music but primarily hasn’t committed any crazy crime.”

Sonja Tutty

Image Credit: Wikimedia