Kevin Spacey has received a lifetime achievement award from the National Museum of Cinema in a ceremony in Turin, Italy. Spacey was given the Stella della Mole award by Vittorio Sgarbi, undersecretary to the Italian ministry of culture.
This unexpected event has led us to reflect on the state of the #MeToo movement that was instrumental in demanding accountability for men who were accused of sexual abuses.
Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby: these are some of the high-profile men who have been convicted of sex crimes after being accused by women and girls. At the height of the #MeToo movement, countless others were “canceled”—either socially or professionally– when there wasn’t enough evidence to convict them. In one representative case, NBC News terminated Matt Lauer’s employment after an unidentified female NBC employee reported that Lauer had sexually harassed her during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and that the harassment continued after they returned to New York. His career was destroyed after that, not to mention what it did to his private life.
Actor Anthony Rapp accused Kevin Spacey of making a sexual advance toward him when both were working on Broadway in 1986. Rapp was 14 at the time and Spacey was 26.
Spacey starred on the popular Netflix series “House of Cards.” After the allegation became public, Netflix announced the next season of the show, Season 6, would be its final one and later announced production on the final season would be halted as well. Despite eventually being absolved of the charges, Spacey found himself in professional limbo for years after that.
Honoring Spacey at the ceremony Sgarbi said: “Tonight we’re witnessing Kevin Spacey’s comeback … The one living through cinema is an immortal man, and it is precisely him that we are awarding this prize to tonight.”
In response, Spacey said he thanked the museum for having “the courage, the balls, to invite me”. He added that, “I realized I had to take all the setbacks and mistakes I made and get back on my feet, move on.”
Nearly five years after its viral spread on social media prompted an international reckoning with the prevalence of sexual abuse and discrimination, particularly in the workplace, #MeToo has lost a lot of its power and perhaps this award to Spacey is the clearest indication of that loss.
It’s worth asking, to what extent has the movement succeeded in remedying the inequalities that compelled its formation, and in holding men accountable for their abuses?
An article in The New York Times states that it actually hasn’t done much to curtail sexual harassment and abuse. Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami, stated, “When we look at the people who have had serious accusations made against them — one of the ones is a Supreme Court justice — most of the accused men in Hollywood have gotten their jobs back, or people are doing their comeback tours like nothing really happened”.
More broadly, domestic violence continues to go underreported, with just 41 percent of cases reported to the police in 2020, down from 47 percent in 2017, according to the Department of Justice. A 2019 survey from the Harvard Business Review found that while blatant sexual harassment in the workplace appeared to decline after the advent of #MeToo, hostility toward female employees appeared to increase, suggestive of a backlash. When workers do come forward with sexual harassment claims, they face courts that “have not moved very far from where they started three decades ago,” Danielle Bernstein wrote in The Atlantic last year.
The response to the Depp-Heard trial on social media suggests that the court of public opinion is also becoming less friendly to accusers. If in the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein reporting we saw a wave of corporations and celebrities voicing their support for #MeToo, in the Heard-Depp case we saw the reverse.
The Times’s Amanda Hess argued that the online commentary about the trial was remarkably one-sided in Depp’s favor, quickly progressing from a he-said-she-said case to an internet-wide smear campaign against Heard. “Survivors are making rational decisions when they decide not to come forward,” said Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights attorney and the author of “Sexual Justice.” “They are engaged in a cost/benefit analysis, and often that calculus shows them they’re better off not reporting.” Now it is the women who can expect damage to ensue from an accusation.
So, if most of the accused got their jobs back, women are suffering from hostility backlash when they do report abuses, and even those convicted of crimes, like Spacey, are now getting awards, can we assume that the #MeToo movement is dead?
“The movement is very much alive,” the activist Tarana Burke, who started the movement in 2006, said after the Depp-Heard verdict came down. Regardless of the outcome of any one trial, the hashtag still “means something to millions and millions of folks,” she added.
The movement can claim a number of achievements. In a 2021 poll from The Associated Press, 54 percent of Americans said that attention to sexual misconduct had made them more likely to speak out if they were a victim, and 58 percent said were more willing to speak out if they were to witness it.
And #MeToo has changed how governments and corporations handle claims of sexual harassment. For example, several states, including New York and California, have restricted employer use of nondisclosure agreements, and a law was signed forbidding clauses in employment contracts requiring workers to settle sexual harassment and abuse cases in private rather than in court.
But in the end, Spacey’s award says much more about the present credibility and accomplishments of the #MeToo movement.