Manchester by the Sea Director Defends Casey Affleck

The director of Manchester by the Sea called a piece written by a college junior “a tangle of illogic, misinformation and flat-out slander.”
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The director of Manchester by the Sea called a piece written by a college junior “a tangle of illogic, misinformation and flat-out slander.”

Manchester by the Sea writer-director Kenneth Lonergan fired back at a college newspaper journalist from the Wesleyan Argus who had admonished Wesleyan University for celebrating his recent Academy Awards win on the basis that his film stars an accused sexual harasser.

In his op-ed, published Saturday (also in the Wesleyan Argus), Lonergan called the original Argus story, published just two days earlier, “a tangle of illogic, misinformation and flat-out slander.” The original story asked Wesleyan to address the “injustice” of Casey Affleck’s casting in Lonergan’s 2015 movie, which the author, junior Connor Aberle, wrote indicated was an example of the entertainment industry’s track record for hiring Hollywood stars who have been accused of sexual harassment.

The seven-year-old claims against Affleck resurfaced in November, two months after 17-year-old rape allegations around The Birth of a Nation writer-director Nate Parker re-emerged during the start of his film’s Oscar awards campaign. (While The Birth of a Nation won only an African-American Film Critics Association award, Manchester by the Sea picked up a Best Actor award for Affleck at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Oscars.) Wesleyan’s communications department has since featured the director, who left the university after one year to attend New York University, in a pre-Oscars interview on film editing and in a write-up on alums who won Academy Awards this year (there were three).

Lonergan’s complaint appears to be primarily—and appropriately—rhetorical: He blasted the piece’s “random use” of the words “sexual misconduct,” “sexual harassment,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual violence,” and argued that, by frequently dropping the word “alleged,” the author suggests that Affleck is, in fact, guilty of the crime. Affleck was accused of sexual harassment seven years ago, when two women working on the set of his 2010 mockumentary I’m Not Here filed separate suits. One of the suits alleged Affleck climbed into bed with the plaintiff without her consent; the other said he grabbed the plaintiff’s arm while she was attempting to leave his hotel room, among other allegations. The cases were both settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

“Somebody as interested in actual as opposed to merely vocalized 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,” Lonergan wrote.

The Argus op-ed also saw Lonergan defending a star he thanked three times in his Oscars acceptance speech after staying silent about the allegations on the Oscar-campaign trail. He writes that the claims were embedded in a civil lawsuit for breach of contract that was years-old, and which Affleck has called fabricated (none of those details were in the original piece).

Affleck similarly broke his Oscars campaign-long silence about the allegations in an interview with the Boston Globe the day after the Oscars ceremony, in which he noted he was prohibited from commenting on the matter, but added, “There’s really nothing I can do about it… other than live my life the way I know I live it and to speak to what my own values are and how I try to live by them all the time,” he said.

Lonergan’s approach is notably less muted. “[O]nly the author’s presumed youth can possibly excuse his deeply offensive display of ignorance, and warped PC-fueled sense of indignation,” he wrote of Aberle, who is a college junior and the paper’s assistant opinions editor. The resulting piece isn’t exactly in keeping with the writing style of Lonergan, who, in his nine theatrical and seven film credits, has been lauded for subtly pulling back the layers of complex and often gentle characters.