A curious announcement hit the Hollywood Reporter and other movie trade publications Thursday.
It is that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are teaming up with Paramount to make a detective drama.
The timing of the announcement is more than just curious. It comes across as strangely and stunningly tone deaf, given that the two superstars have been drawn into the imploding controversy over growing sexual assault and harassment allegations involving their close colleague and mentor Harvey Weinstein.
The announcement of this detective drama, “The Shadows,” also came the day that police in New York City and London announced they had opened criminal investigations into whether some of the movie mogul’s actions over the decades broke the law.
Of course, no one expects these two rich and successful filmmakers to stop working. But maybe this wasn’t the week to try and drum up publicity for a new project, especially one with a crime theme.
“Jesus Christ, read the room, guys,” tweeted Vice and Bitch Media writer Christine Estima.
Jesus Christ, read the room, guys.
— Christine Estima (@christineestima) October 13, 2017
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) October 12, 2017
It’s especially hard to believe their P.R. people didn’t see a dark irony in the two being involved in a historical drama about America’s first detectives when the specter of a criminal investigation hangs over Weinstein, the man who who made them stars with 1997’s “Good Will Hunting” and who has supported their various projects ever since.
For a moment I read “to produce movie about Harry Weinstein scandal”. Mind games.
— ForYourConsideration (@FYC_Oscar) October 12, 2017
Right now, it’s uncertain how the Weinstein controversy will impact their careers, but things are looking especially tricky for Affleck.
“The scandal that has destroyed the reputation of Hollywood mega mogul Harvey Weinstein appears to be widening its scope to the point that it might take down actor and filmmaker Ben Affleck, too,” Vox writer Constance Grady said Friday.
If that’s the case, and Affleck’s name did somehow become radioactive in Hollywood, it’s likely that Paramount wouldn’t want him attached to the project, which is based on a Boston Globe Magazine article “Into the Shadows” about America’s first undercover officers. So in that sense, this kind of announcement also seems premature.
Earlier this week, Affleck and Damon tried to contain the potential damage to their careers and reputations because of their Weinstein association. Both expressed shock, horror and anger over the allegations, first made in the New York Times on Oct. 5, then expanded in stories in the Times and in the New Yorker Tuesday.
But many found it hard to buy Affleck and Damon’s claims that they didn’t know something about how Weinstein allegedly preyed on actresses and other women he worked with. People were also skeptical of the two given that it took them nearly a week to respond to the first story in the Times.
Damon was forced to deny reports that he helped Weinstein derail a 2004 New York TImes report about the allegations.
Actress Jessica Chastain, Damon’s co-star in “The Martian,” came to his defense via Twitter on Wednesday. She’s no stranger to denouncing sexism in Hollywood but she said Damon is being unfairly tarnished by the Weinstein controversy, saying he was probably manipulated by Weinstein and is “a really good guy.”
I believe that Matt was manipulated. I’ve spent time with him on The Martian and he’s a really good guy. https://t.co/waTdWDJjlw
— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) October 10, 2017
But no A-list actress like Chastain has yet come to Affleck’s defense.
In speaking out against Weinstein, Affleck immediately provoked a backlash. At least two women came forward on social media to share accounts of harassment he allegedly committed against them.
Then one of Weinstein’s alleged victims, actress Rose McGowan, took to Twitter to call out Affleck, her co-star in the 1998 Weinstein-produced film “Phantoms.”
McGowan called Affleck a “liar.” She said Affleck knew that Weinstein preyed on women and that Weinstein had assaulted her. McGowan was one of eight women reported by the New York Times as reaching a settlement with Weinstein. This week she said that Weinstein raped her.
Just as embarrassing, clips of videos from 2003 and 2004 TV appearances emerged, showing Affleck behaving like a creep. In the 2004 clip from a Montreal entertainment news show, Affleck is seen nuzzling a female co-host and incessantly talking about her breasts and “ti–ies.”
While the host told the Hollywood Reporter that she and Affleck were just putting on an act, it’s hard to see how they ever thought this particular act could be considered entertaining or funny. It’s just creepy, strange and even mean-spirited, as when Affleck does an imitation of someone with a disability.
Another reason Affleck has become a secondary target of the Weinstein scandal is that he spent much of the past year helping his brother Casey Affleck successfully campaign for an Oscar, even as Casey was dogged by a sexual harassment lawsuit from his past.
Affleck’s critics this week point out that he never condemned his brother’s actions, though he felt OK to go ahead and denounce Weinstein.
Since speaking out Tuesday, Affleck and Damon have mostly kept quiet. On Wednesday, Affleck tweeted out an apology to actress Hilarie Burton who said he groped her during an appearance on the 2003 TV show.
I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize
— Ben Affleck (@BenAffleck) October 11, 2017
On Thursday, Affleck was spotted with his ex-wife Jennifer Garner, taking their daughters, Violet, 11 and Seraphina, 8, out for ice cream in Santa Monica, AOL said.
Then on Thursday came the news about his new detective drama with Damon.
The announcement also struck some readers of Hollywood Reporter as galling because it shows that powerful men in this industry can continue to get work, regardless of how much they may have enabled an alleged predator or how much one might have engaged in questionable behavior with women himself. This kind of response isn’t encouraging for the fate of this project, no matter how worthy it may be independent of the men’s involvement.
“I hate to say it, but I can never hear the names Matt Damon and Ben Affleck again without thinking of groping, coveringup sexual abuse and hypocrisy,” wrote one reader.
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