Sexual assault cases impact Urban students’ media consumption

Lena Bianchi, Head of Illustration

As #MeToo becomes one of the most used hashtags and black dresses are worn to a televised award show to protest sexual harassment, women are gaining more access to global support and platforms to speak up and share their experiences with sexual assault in their careers. Over the past few months, the voices of those who have previously been silenced are now speaking up about men in positions of authority, particularly in the film industry, and their previous sexual misconduct crimes and allegations. As the number of sexual assault cases rises, the repercussions affect the viewership of popular media and television observed by students at the Urban School.

Allegations against Harvey Weinstein surfaced in early October after actresses reported his sexual behavior towards women and his offers to advance their careers in return for sexual services. These reports against Weinstein promoted more women to come forward to address Weinstein’s ability to violate their boundaries. Over 50 women, primarily actresses, disclosed their experiences working with Weinstein. The following months lead to the increase of sexual assault and harassment allegations against 71 men. While men in the entertainment industry were the direct targets of these comments, more sexual misconduct allegations started to emerge in the public eye from all different work areas. Some popular entertainment watched by Urban students include film actors, such as Kevin Spacey, who has been accused 15 times, comedian Louis C.K., accused five times, and chef Mario Batali who has been accused by a few anonymous sources.

Viewers are now faced with a choice to continue or stop watching performances by accused actors. The Urban School students weighed in on this issue and their reaction to allegations. Samuel Levine (‘21) said “for the most part, I never really watch their [performances] in general. It’s not that much of a change in my life in terms of what I consume.”

However, some students have previously enjoyed their work. Leah Sandler (‘19) said “I was towards the end of Master of None,” starring Aziz Ansari, a comedian accused of sexual assault, and “I was hesitant to finish it because it was one of my favorite shows. It’s hard because I feel like it’s a moral decision if I continue to watch it and I don’t think I’m ready to make that decision.”

While removing media with accused actors from students daily lives might sound straightforward, it’s difficult to identify who has been accused of harassment. By not knowing of the accused men who work behind the scenes make it difficult to determine what exactly boycotting entertainment should be.

This recent escalation of the discussion does not mean that sexual misconduct has recently started to happen, but has been occurring for a long time due to the power dynamics of men and women in the workplace. “It gets me really frustrated when I see that an accusation was from a long time ago, yet they still were able to have a successful career. What also frustrates me more than the accusations, which of course are terrible, are how a lot of people dismiss them because they like that actor or they like their work. Thinking that we should separate that actor from their work just because we like them just disappoints me more,” said Sandler.

The rise of accusations also has led students to question the accuracy of the allegations. Jack Kampmann (‘20) said that “being a male and knowing that this is coming out rather quickly, I always have a little apprehension at first. I definitely think that these women are telling the truth, but I think it’s important to look into the facts a little deeper and make sure everything is correct. It’s important to see all the facts before I form an opinion.” In order to react to the accusations, some found it necessary to completely understand the charges and identify what exactly they were responding to.

Levine noted that each case is different and said that his judgment “depends on the actor and how serious the allegations are, not if it happened or not, but in terms of how aggressive or intense it was. I don’t mean to say something is worse than another, but I feel like, as sad as it is, it has been normalized. It’s a super surreal moment.”