As Hollywood continues to reel from new and damning allegations of sexual assault, it’s time for an obvious reminder: Keep your hands to yourself. Over the weekend, actors Kevin Spacey and Adam Sandler were both accused of acting inappropriately in very different fashions, though both claims at least partially stem from the alleged perpetrator’s inability to respect another person’s personal space, both in person and in private, both passed off as a “friendly gesture” or something far more nefarious. Another person’s body isn’t yours for the taking, no matter how famous or powerful you may be.
But it’s the public nature of some of these allegations that is most damning, as a fresh wave of claims have been bolstered because of the explicitly open nature of them. They’re on video, they’re packaged as part of some giddy marketing push, and they’re now wholly impossible to ignore.
That’s a lesson plenty of power players are learning now, but it’s one that sadly still needs to be repeated. (Hollywood is, of course, not the only sector of American society reeling from such allegations, as former President George H.W. Bush has recently come under fire for allegedly groping a number of women during meet-and-greets, to say nothing of the allegations waged against President Donald Trump over the years, particularly during his own dalliances in the entertainment arena.)
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Promotional tours and press junkets have often played home to such inappropriate actions, though the recent uptick in reporting (and, in some cases, even just remembering) these incidents has cast a harsh light on the behavior of many major stars, plenty of whom felt secure enough in their station to touch women on camera without their consent. In recent weeks, Ben Affleck has come under fire for a number of incidents in which he’s reputedly touched female journalists during on-camera interviews. Former “TRL” host Hilarie Burton accused Affleck of groping her during an on-air interview, video of which had long been floating around the internet. Affleck later apologized for the incident.
The Burton accusations also drew attention to Affleck’s repeated interviews with Canadian journalist Anne-Marie Losique, including a 2004 on-camera interview during which Losique sat on Affleck’s lap while he asked her to expose her breasts. While Losique herself later sounded off on the incident (and others like it, as she has often interviewed Affleck during his acting tenure) to Variety, saying they were “just mugging for the cameras” and that she saw no offense in Affleck’s actions, the videos are still unsettling to watch and they set a very uncomfortable standard for other interviews.
Affleck and Losique may have found it fun to do, a way to pass the time, something silly, but watching the power dynamic play out, with Affleck pawing at Losique’s body and all but putting his head inside her shirt while she’s attempting to do her job, is eye-opening. That it’s forever immortalized on video means that it should never go away, and it shouldn’t.
Most recently, Sandler appeared on “The Graham Norton Show,” where he repeatedly touched Claire Foy’s knee in increasingly awkward and personal ways, enough that “The Crown” star attempted to remove his hand, though that didn’t keep him from reaching out to touch her again. Sandler’s own “The Meyerowitz Stories” co-star Emma Thompson, also a guest on the show, even appeared to glare at him. While Sandler’s representatives swiftly issued a statement after the awkward incident was upbraided on social media, it was one that simply said the touching has been “blown out of proportion.” Foy’s team also weighed in, commenting that they “don’t believe anything was intended by Adam’s gesture and it has caused no offence to Claire.”
Sandler, it seems, didn’t think it was a big deal, and neither did Foy, whose own comments hit the wire swiftly after Sandler’s. Yet even if Foy herself didn’t care about what happened (or, at the very least, was willing to shake if off), the incident played out in front of millions of eyes, broadcast to the world, yet another example of a powerful man grasping at a woman as if she had the same agency as a piece of furniture. It’s bad behavior, and the kind the sets an uneasy example during a time when many people are being forced to reckon with how their behavior is perceived by others.
And, official statements beside, the question remains: Why did Sandler feel it was even remotely appropriate to touch Foy — on camera — and then repeat the move after she attempted to remove his hand? Why is any part of Foy’s body available for him to touch as he sees fit? And why didn’t he stop once she had made it clear, through her own physical movements, that she didn’t want his hand there? At what point does it become permissible, in the context of casual promotional responsibilities, to make assumptions about someone’s personal boundaries?
Actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, who has consistently been outspoken about issues of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, recounted her own story of being harassed during a promotional tour last year. Sparked by the trial of former CBC journalist Jian Ghomeshi, who was accused of sexual assault and harassment (he was later acquitted), Kazan took to Twitter to share her own experiences with him. Unlike Affleck or Sandler, he wasn’t an actor using a show to pump his latest project, he was the host of a show on which Kazan was appearing to publicize her own work. Per Kazan, he used that power dynamic to make her feel increasingly uncomfortable and unable to say anything, lest the opportunity to speak about her work be taken from her.
As Kazan wrote, “A few years ago, as part of the press tour for a movie, I was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi on his radio show Q. I was told it was an important interview…Before we went on air, we chatted for a few minutes. Then Ghomeshi smiled and said, ‘Man, you are just my type. Funny, sexy, just the right amount of damage.’ And then we went on air…This is not the first time a guy has ‘typed’ me as ‘damaged’ in a sexual way. I’ve come to expect it in a bar. I never expected it in a professional situation, pre-interview, with producers in the room. I had to hold my hands under the table to keep them from shaking.”
Ghomeshi later showed up at a party for that same movie, where Kazan remembered that he “pushed his way to my table, and sat next to me for the rest of the night. He wouldn’t leave me alone, even with my boyfriend there.” While Ghomeshi never touched Kazan, he manipulated his power over her and the promotional space she was working in to harass her.
Kazan’s story could not be more timely, and neither can the call for action she ends on, one that reinforces what should be the most easy to follow of rules: Don’t touch anyone who doesn’t give you the permission to do so. “The default assumption should not be consent. Just because I agreed to be on your show doesn’t give you the right to treat me like I’m sexually available to you,” she wrote. “Just because I smiled at you doesn’t mean I want you to touch me. Just because you’re interested doesn’t mean I’m interested.”
The conversation has changed, forever. Whatever wave was unleashed after those first allegations against Harvey Weinstein were published is showing no sign of letting up — it’s only getting bigger, stronger, and louder. Everyone who exists in a public sphere, most especially those who are part of the entertainment industry, are now responsible for understanding why such conversations are important, and why issues like sexual harassment and abuse need to be taken seriously and respectfully. There’s no longer any space for this behavior, in front of or behind the camera.