“Thank you Casey Affleck, Casey Affleck, Casey Affleck,” Kenneth Lonergan ’84 repeated in his acceptance speech for best screenplay at the Oscars. Lonergan’s clear admiration for Affleck—who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women—rings pathetically tone-deaf in the ears of those familiar with sexual violence. The Oscars had some joyous moments of justice, like “Moonlight’s” victory over “La La Land” (the nostalgic story of a predominantly Black musical genre, Jazz, rescued by a white savior, Ryan Gosling), but there were a couple outrageous moments of injustice—injustice that Wesleyan must address.

Most obviously, Casey Affleck’s best actor win is severely problematic. After multiple allegations of horrific, lewd acts, Affleck denied allegations against him and returned to his successful career without any ramifications. In fact, his prospects immensely improved since his disastrous project “I’m Still Here,” leading to him winning the most coveted prizes among actors.

Many may argue that the award of best actor belongs to the actor who gave the strongest performance regardless of their personal integrity. However, winning an award for a profession reflects on not only one’s ability, but implicitly endorses their moral character as well. Affleck’s victory suggests that he is superlative in his job but also generally an upstanding person. If a cashier in a grocery store committed a murder, no matter how well they run the register, they are not going to win employee of the month.

The fact that “Manchester by the Sea” starred an accused perpetrator of sexual violence accurately reflects the ludicrous practices of Hollywood. There are thousands of actors, many of whom possess immense talent, but only a small, elite group of actors receive the majority of roles. “Manchester by the Sea” could have instead featured any number of talented actors that were not accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. But instead, the film afforded the lead role to a well-known white actor, much in the same way “La La Land” opted for the star power of Ryan Gosling instead of casting someone who could actually sing and dance.

Wesleyan has overlooked its complicity in Casey Affleck’s continued success for the sake of heaping praise on itself. The University desperately takes credit for any modicum of success from its alumni such that it congratulates people who transferred out of the school. If Wesleyan is dead-set on bolstering its reputation through Kenneth Lonergan, a former student who apparently disliked Wesleyan enough to transfer to New York University midway through college, then this institution must also acknowledge Lonergan’s problematic relationship with Affleck.

In an awkward moment of his acceptance speech, Lonergan thanked Casey Affleck three times (he mentioned his late father only once). The pair are close; in an interview, Affleck described Lonergan as an “old friend,” and he has worked with Lonergan in the past. Their relationship alone should merit pause from Wesleyan, but Lonergan’s active role in casting should leave the University reticent, if not vocally opposed to him.

Directors and producers play an active role in the casting of a movie, but sometimes they want certain actors regardless of the casting process. In the same interview, Affleck describes receiving a call from Lonergan asking him to star in “Manchester by the Sea.” Casey Affleck did not audition and catch the eye of a casting director; he was a specific choice that was made for the movie.

Wesleyan University cannot insist on claiming credit for Kenneth Lonergan unless they also acknowledge their complicity in the success of a perpetrator of sexual violence. Lonergan essentially won Affleck his Oscar by handpicking Affleck for his movie. A famous actor’s connections enable them to continue their success, and we must be cautious about praising enablers, especially when they help sexual harassers. Wesleyan cannot have it both ways; it can either be true to its progressive brand or it can indiscriminately praise every semi-notable success from alumni (and even students who transferred out).

“Moonlight” signifies an important shift in movie making. Although members of the cast like Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali have extensive backgrounds in film, “Moonlight” avoids drawing actors from the trite (often white) pool of superstar actors. And the movie won best film, quickly becoming a blockbuster. Hopefully the practice of casting actors rather than stars catches fire, enabling productions to avoid any of the numerous domestic abusers and sexual abusers among the ranks of celebrity actors.

In the likely event that movies will continue to recruit star power, institutions must acknowledge their complicity in the success of actors involved in sexual misconduct. Wesleyan University has an obligation to reject sexual violence of all kinds. Therefore, it cannot claim credit for Lonergan’s success without also recognizing his role in promoting Casey Affleck’s career. Wesleyan must either be cautious in its alumni praise, or it must admit to its students that it cares only about building the Wesleyan University brand rather than social justice or the well-being of the Wesleyan community.

Connor Aberle is a member of the Class of 2019. 

He be reached at caberle@wesleyan.edu and on Twitter @connoraberle. 

  • Stevie Gee

    Good grief! Just watched the incredible movie and then came across this painfully ignorant, amateurish, emotional diatribe being passed off as an op-ed.
    If this is the journalism of tomorrow, we’re in for some rough times.

  • chromiumfinch

    It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people crawl out of the woodwork to defend any white dude accused of sexual violence. Didn’t see so many show up for Nate Parker and Birth of a Nation. Sorry about the comments on here; this was an excellent think piece and it’s a shame it isn’t receiving more thoughtful responses.

    • Stevie Gee

      How is calling out shitty journalism the same as defending “any white dude accused of sexual violence?”

      Excellent think piece? Now that’s a thoughtful response! Stay amazed.

  • Anon

    Why is it “Black musical genre” but a “white” savior?
    Also, what most coveted “prizes” did Affleck win? Last I check, an Oscar is an award, not a prize, and it is singular at that.
    Cashier/murderer to actor/alleged harasser? If you can find any moral equivalency in your straw man analogy, please elaborate.

    Here’s my take on this dreck: weaselyan was a nice little school for girls once upon a time, but clearly any claim to intellectual superiority was relinquished with the admittance of “hack” (rhymes with Black, just to be as cute as Connor) wannabe intellectual journalists. Someone carve out a safe space for Mr. aberle and someone relay the story of the Left’s prodigal son Roman Polanski, if he wants an understanding of sexual violence.

  • Memflix

    To the writer of this article. To write an opinion piece, your opinion must have inherent validity. Yours does not, and it’s obvious from how thin your argument is that you know that. I hate that Lonergan responded to this. It probably makes you think you’re a good writer when you clearly are not, at least not yet. Stop writing gotcha, click-bait, sensationalist garbage and study more.

  • Chris Vitangio

    I thought is was a good movie.

  • PdeV

    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this opinion has been articulated in a way that betrays the writer’s ignorance of any facts surrounding Affleck’s case and so many other facets of a life lived in a mere two decades. One day Connor will grow up and cringe at this disastrous piece of writing. Real journalists do their homework. Any child can spew their anger all over 400 words.

  • Maurice Durufle

    20 year olds are certainly retarded, but they believe in the righteousness of their flaky opinions oh so very strongly. We must therefore cast out all doubts because they are so fervent.

    Having a monopoly on virtue, social justice warriors are the very worst.

    – Krumhorn

  • jkenn

    I hope this terribly written article doesn’t reflect the state of a Wesleyan education. Sexual violence, sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are used interchangeably to describe Affleck’s ALLEGED actions while these terms are separate and distinct under the law. This article is factually inaccurate and difficult to follow as there is no logical flow. Finally, the mention of Longeran’s late father was disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself, Connor Aberle.

  • J.J. McKeever

    Thank you, Wesleyan, for publishing this piece and highlighting a crucial problem in our society.

    We can’t ignore the issue any longer.

    The truth must come out —

    20 year olds are generally retarded.

  • SJ

    What in the hell is the matter with you? You should be ashamed that you included the line about his father, somehow insinuating that the director cares about Casey Affleck more. Seriously, of all the things wrong with this article (the tortured logic, incorrect facts, inability to stay on topic), this is the most egregious.

  • Just

    “However, winning an award for a profession reflects on not only one’s ability, but implicitly endorses their moral character as well.”

    This is just a patently false claim. It’s just not true. A best actor award has NOTHING to do with one’s moral character. It has to do with how well they acted.

    I am truly flummoxed at how someone could fail to understand this. Are you really so stupid as to not understand such a simple and evident fact?

    For your sake I hope you are just trying to justify your argument, but jesus.

  • Casual Observer

    Next, let’s root out the fans/enablers of Michael Jackson

  • Randy Matthews

    “Wesleyan University cannot insist on claiming credit for Kenneth Lonergan unless they also acknowledge their complicity in the success of a perpetrator of sexual violence. Lonergan essentially won Affleck his Oscar by handpicking Affleck for his movie.”

    Like a lot of civil suits, this was settled out of court. Proving and disproving nothing. That doesn’t discredit the university from working with Lonergan. If the truth is that important on either side of a civil case, it is the responsibility of the Plaintiff or Defendant to see it all they way through the court system, without settlements.

    It should be also noted that this project’s genesis came from Matt Damon. It was his pet project, which he handed off to Longergan, who chose Casey Affleck. I’d be real surprised if Damon didn’t have any say or opinion on that casting decision, based on there being a childhhood friends who had worked together before.

  • RyanG@gmail

    Appreciate your time for writing this article, but couple of things are wrong –

    1) Cashier murdering metaphor doesn’t implies here.

    2) More importantly, this angel of this article has to be hiring non-sexual abusers vs hiring a multi-sexual violence involved actor and giving him the highest acclaimmed prize of his career. But you made it Black vs White.

    Stick to the point, kid.

  • James

    There is a predictable pattern to these things. The articles begin with “X is accused of Y” or “X is allegedlyy Z”. The rest of the article than goes around claiming, “X committed Y” or “X is Z”. Disgraceful, disreputable, and frankly just terrible logic.

  • James

    My uncle’s cousin’s brother-in-law is friends with an ex-Nazi. This institution must therefore take this opportunity to condemn me for my family’s disreputable past, which is clearly a reflection on my own moral character. To do anything less would be tantamount to sanctioning my Nazism!

    (And, lest somebody take me serious, I will point out now that I am joking. What does it say about culture that this sort of qualification is necessary? Clearly nothing good.)

  • True Cinema Buff

    Why vaguely repeat “multiple” women/allegations? If it’s two say two. I realize multiple makes it sound more sensational, but it’s a pretty important detail to keep glossing over– to the point that it comes across as misleading.

    Also totally uncalled for to take a shot at Ryan Gosling when it has nothing to do with your argument. Seems unnecessarily cruel.

  • M. Kemper Brown

    Hey Connor,

    I think your “Cashier” metaphor is problematic.

    IMO, a cashier that was accused of sexual harassment (but not convicted) and then settled out of court could definitely be awarded Employee of the Month at a different store seven years later.

  • Scott

    I know it’s utterly beside the point, but Janelle Monáe”s “extensive background in film” included exactly zero on-screen roles before “Moonlight” and “Hidden Figures.” And “Moonlight” did not quickly become a “blockbuster”, it made $1 million on the Saturday following its win, which was the best day of its run, but was still just the 13th-highest grossing film that day, trailing something called “Rock Dog.”

    • Hari

      I think this is the most maddening aspect of this column. Just jarring factual inaccuracies like repeatedly referring to “Moonlight” as a blockbuster when it is one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners ever.

      And a fundamental misunderstanding of how films are cast and financed. La La Land isn’t made if you cast a naturally great singer / dancer and not Ryan Gosling. Someone has to finance these movies, and unknown actors don’t sell tickets generally. That’s the same situation with Manchester and Casey Affleck. That project was set up with Matt Damon in the lead role, and Damon left and to keep the project alive another star was needed.

      The author is so misinformed and uninformed, but yet writes with such smug self-assurdness.

  • Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen

    Wesleyan University praised an alum director who employed an actor who was ACCUSED of a sexual crime. Therefore, Wesleyan University is complicit in sexual violence.

    We’re doomed if this is the future of Left politics.

  • Anon

    Is the writer familiar with a) the definition of the word “allegation?” b) the legal and real-life difference between sexual harrassment (a repulsive offence) and “sexual violence?” (a federal crime) and c) the standard of proof required to make accusations in a civil suit, e.g. None? Clearly not. In other words, you don’t know what youre talking about. You owe Affleck, Lonergan, Wesleyan, and your readers an apology for parading your offensive ignorance before them under a warped banner of misplaced ethical indignation.

  • Anon

    In America today, it is agreed that people are innocent until proven guilty. Trying to say that Wesleyan University is complicit because an alumnus thanked an actor who has never been proven guilty of something is a bit of a stretch.

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