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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

The Impossible Task of Separating Art From Artist In Film

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

The 21st century so far has seen an exponential rise in progressiveness in the film industry. Movies are getting more diverse, minority stories are being told, and it seems like people behind the scenes are finally being held accountable for questionable behavior. But despite all of the progress that has been made over the years, the film industry is still riddled with unethical practices and most of all, people. It's not uncommon to see a new release get met with protests because of a certain cast or crew member. This problem tends to have two, polar opposite sides. Those who refuse to consume media made by immoral people, and those who choose to observe the art as it is, without considering the actions of those who produced it. But with all of the scandals present in film studios throughout the years, avoiding unsavory artists is becoming less and less easy, but was it even practical in the first place?

When the phrase "separating the art from the artist" is brought up in conversation, several individuals come to mind. However, it's difficult to find someone whose career has been more hotly debated than Polish/French director, Roman Polanski. Polanski has had a very interesting life as well as career. He is a Holocaust survivor, his wife was murdered by the Manson family, he has directed some of the most iconic films in modern history such as The Pianist, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and many others. He is a recipient of countless film awards such as an Oscar and a Palm D'Or from the Cannes Film Festival. Roman Polanski is also a convicted child rapist. In 1977 he was arrested and charged with drugging and sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl. After learning that he could serve prison time instead of probation, he fled to Paris in 1978 and ever since, Polanski has remained a fugitive. Despite being a well-known criminal, he has continued to release films, with his latest being An Officer and a Spy in 2019.

Being opposed to watching Polanski films is considered to be very reasonable by the majority of cinephiles, especially the films released after his crime took place. Some go as far as to avoid any movie featuring an actor who has ever starred in a Polanski project. However, despite how evil he is and how unforgiveable his actions are, it's difficult to deny the merit of films like The Pianist and Rosemary's Baby. Not only are they well-made and professional, but they have etched themselves onto the canvas of film culture as we know it. It'd be a complete waste not to appreciate them as works of art, and it's extremely unlikely that they would turn out the same if they were directed by anyone else. Those who close themselves off from these movies are missing out on a crucial part of film history, despite how sinister the creator may be. Quentin Tarantino has been scrutinized by thousands for his previous defense of Polanski, which he has since rescinded, but a lot of people still see this as reason enough to avoid all of his work as well. This is just as impractical because the current film-scape wouldn't be the same without movies like Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds. Despite the severity of his crimes, Roman Polanski is far from the first or highest profile case of this moral dilemma in the world of film.

Harvey Weinstein is one of the most loathed individuals in not only the film industry, but the world, and for good reason. Over the course of his illustrious career as a Hollywood producer, he sexually harrassed, abused, and assaulted countless actresses. He commited these heinous crimes all while maintaining his success and image, until 2017, when dozens of high-profile women came forward about their experiences with the producer. Soon after that, awareness of sexual abuse in Hollywood reached an all-time high, and while there is still a lot of work to do, it's safe to say the industry is now a lot safer for women. Weinstein's situation is different than Polanski's, not only because he has a much larger number of victims, but because his influence on movies is unignorable. Over the course of his career, Weinstein produced over 200 movies, and worked with some of the most influencial directors of modern film, including Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, David O. Russell, as well as many others. This has led to quite the impressive résumé, it's no wonder why he was one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood for so long.

Choosing to obeserve film while also avoiding Weinstein's projects is going to leave a gigantic gap in knowledge. It's tragic how much of the film world has Weinstein's dirty prints all over it, but we need to remember as audience members that movies take hundreds of people to make, and by focusing our disdain on one of those cast or crew members, we are discrediting the world of so many talented, innocent individuals. The best we can do as a collective is simply forget Weinstein, giving less power to his name, damning him into obscurity is probably the worst thing he can imagine, so let's give it to him.

In December of 2021, I was fortunate enough to interview Nicholl Fellowship winning filmmaker, Kurt Kuenne. During our time together, I asked him his opinion on separating the art from the artist as someone who is active in the film industry. Kuenne replied: "it's tough, sometimes I wonder if it's okay to see things as they were before they got all these allegations. It's something I struggle with quite frankly because there are things I still want to see by y'know, people we shouldn't support, I try to watch those for free as much as possible. One of the reasons I struggle with it is that the problematic artist isn't the only person who worked on that movie, there's tons of other people who are not problematic whose work is wonderful, so I almost feel like it's unfair to negate the contributions of all those people because of one person who was in the mix." Not only did I find Kuenne's perspective to be quite valuable, I also found myself agreeing. It's impossible for us to truly get a deep, personal understanding of every cast/crew member that works on a film. We don't know the cameraman's worst secret, or how mean the editor was in high school, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is the work, and by not considering that you are doing a disservice to them as well as yourself.

The very first moving picture was produced by a British man named Edweard Muybridge, a person who later went on to commit first degree murder by shooting the man his wife was having an affair with. It can be argued that the very concept of film itself is rooted in evil, but if everyone chose to see things that way, we wouldn't have the illustrious world of film we do today.

Choosing to avoid certain figures in the film world is a personal choice, and it is completely up to you to decide where you stand. However, next time you're considering not watching a film or TV show because of an unsavory name attached to it, consider the other creative minds who worked to make that production a reality, and try to see it for what it is, a piece of art.

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