Kenneth Lonergan, the director and writer of Manchester by the Sea, was awarded the Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony on February 26th.
Another winner for the same movie was Casey Affleck, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his lead performance. However, Affleck's win has been met with much criticism since in light of sexual harassment allegations against the actor.
He faced the allegations in 2010 when producer Amanda White and cinematographer Magdalena Gorka sued for $2m and $2.25m respectively over alleged offences during the filming of the mockumentary I'm Still Here, which Affleck directed and stars Joaquin Phoenix. Affleck denied the allegations repeatedly and both claims were settled out of court.
Following Affleck’s Oscar win, an op-ed piece was published in the Wesleyan Argus, the newspaper of Lonergan’s old college Wesleyan University. The article, titled “How Wesleyan is complicit in Affleck’s sexual misconduct by Endorsing Lonergan ‘84’”, suggested that Affleck’s Oscar win was “severely problematic”.
Written by Connor Aberle, assistant opinion editor for the student paper, the column insisted that the academy’s decision to bestow Lonergan with the most coveted accolade in the industry “implicitly” endorsed his “moral character”. The journalist also took aim at Wesleyan University for praising the alumni Lonergan, without considering the allegations against the film’s star actor: “Wesleyan University has an obligation to reject sexual violence of all kinds. Therefore, it cannot claim credit for Lonergan’s success without also recognising his role in promoting Casey Affleck’s career.”
Lonergan responded with a scathing letter to the editor of the college newspaper, in which he condemned the published piece as “a tangle of illogic, misinformation and flat-out slander that only the author’s presumed youth can possibly excuse his deeply offensive display of ignorance, and warped PC-fueled sense of indignation.”
He condemned the student journalist’s “random use of the terms 'sexual misconduct', 'sexual harassment', 'sexual abuse' and 'sexual violence' as if they were legally or physically interchangeable” and criticised him for not using the word “alleged” in his Op-Ed.
Lonergan argued that the article had been penned as if Affleck was definitely guilty. Standing up for the actor, he emphasised the fact he had vigorously denied the allegations.
“Somebody as interested in actual as opposed to merely vocalised social justice as Mr Aberle presumably is, should unwind his tangled, immoral chain of reasoning and start over at the fundamental precept that an allegation is not an indictment,” he wrote.
“Casey denounced the allegations as being totally fabricated. Like most civil suits, this one was settled out of court by mutual consent on undisclosed terms. In other words nothing was proved or disproved. So how does Mr Aberle dare to write as if he knows who was telling the truth and who was not?”