The chief creative officer of Pixar is one of the latest perpetrators of sexual assault in accusations that have been ripping through the entertainment industry since Harvey Weinstein was accused mid-October. This person is John Lasseter, director of “A Bug’s Life,” who is being accused of kissing, groping and discussing his underwear with his female co-workers.
These allegations lead to the questions: can we separate “A Bug’s Life” from its director? Can we separate any art from its artist?
It’s wishful thinking to say we can. It would be nice to ignore Lasseter’s real-life actions as we enter his world of insects — an animated critique of capitalism. But it’s morally necessary for consumers to consider the off screen with the on screen. Too many filmmakers are calling out large- scale exploitation while perpetrating other forms of it.
The almost two-decade-old feature “A Bug’s Life” is about the disproportionate power that exists in our economic society. Flik, the protagonist ant, messes up the food production line, which results in a threatening encounter with Hopper the cricket (voiced by Kevin Spacey, also accused of sexual assault) who demands the ants accumulate double the amount of food in an unreasonable amount of time. While Lasseter’s film challenges our society’s exploitation of people, his actions are emblematic of the misogynistic system that upholds them.
If filmmakers mistreat and assault others, their product is linked to this behavior. When billions of impressionable minds are consuming this media, sexual assault and harassment of women are normalized.
The recent outpouring of allegations calls for society to be far more critical of mainstream media.
When I watched the Harvey Weinstein- produced “Shakespeare in Love” as a teenager, I was blown away by the delicious, fictionalized romance of how “Romeo and Juliet” came to be.
Shakespeare declares his need for “a muse” to break his writer’s block. This muse turns out to be Viola, a noblewoman aspiring to act in the all-male field. He casts her in his play after she dresses as a man in his auditions, tracks her down and hires her after an exchange of verbal passion. From the protagonists’ steamy dialogue to the Elizabethan fashion and Shakespeare’s hoop earring, my 17-year-old self was captivated at the ability of love to break social confinements.
After learning the news of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory actions, I rewatched the film in its new context and realized that Viola’s success was completely contingent to her sexual involvement with Shakespeare.
I don’t know what is more disturbing — that teenage girls are watching these story lines with admiration or that the Elizabethan romantic comedy set in 1590 is essentially the same as the film industry in 2017. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Viola and is one of the eighty-plus women who have spoken out against Weinstein’s inappropriate behavior, many of whom were forced to succumb to him to secure roles in films.
Weinstein is not an artist, but, as a producer, his power controlled the stories told about the human experience. He stitched the work together, from hiring actors to distributing it globally. If this power gave him the leverage to assault people, you can’t separate his work from the oppressive capitalism present in Hollywood, which he benefits from.
When Louis C.K. joked that his biggest problem of the moment was finding some place in his house where he could masturbate without anyone watching, it was funny because he made himself the punchline of the tabooed subject. The humor dissolved when it became clear that masturbation was a component in his harassment of fellow female comedians.
The art we consume is not only backed by abuse of power, but reflective of it.
As Hollywood’s reputation curdles in the revelations of its hidden abusive culture, it’s necessary to critically examine films as byproducts of greater systemic ailments. It is time to take off the rose-colored glasses that separate art from reality and examine the stories they tell from an ethical standpoint.
If we continue to separate art from the artist, we let imagination off the hook for the sake of being imagination, allowing oppressive power structures to continue to exist on and off screen. Next time you plan on consuming media, know what it’s made of.