Casey Affleck Far More Deserving Of Oscar Backlash Than 'La La Land'

Casey Affleck Far More Deserving Of Oscar Backlash Than 'La La Land'

By Robert Dougherty Mar 01, 2017 09:23 AM
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

La La Land was moments away from facing years of post-Oscars backlash, until Moonlight and the most confusing mix up of all time saved it. If Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had actually been right in saying La La Land had won, the already growing sentiment against it for beating Moonlight and other more progressive, non-white movies would have grown until it became one of the most despised Best Picture winners ever in 5-10 years.

But now that La La Land has been spared such backlash for winning an Oscar that not everyone would have thought it deserved, perhaps now the biggest backlash of the Oscars can go against Casey Affleck, for actually winning an Oscar he didn't deserve for many reasons.

As the Oscars got closer, more and more editorials trashed La La Land for its seemingly inevitable Best Picture win. While more and more people considered Moonlight a landmark for showing the 20 year struggle of a black gay youth, La La Land got more and more accusations of whitewashing, more backlash over Ryan Gosling being considered a greater savior of jazz than John Legend, and more flack over dominating an awards season that was supposed to be more diverse than usual.

Summit Entertainment

Best Picture winners often become more hated over time after they win, usually for beating truly superior opponents or for showing how the Academy is still behind the times. Such a process was well under way for La La Land, and was on its way to running its course by the time Best Picture was announced the first time.

Until producer Jordan Horowitz revealed Moonlight had actually won, La La Land seemed destined to go from overwhelming winner to punching bag in the years ahead. But instead, its defeat and the way it lost should ensure it has a chance to be remembered much more fondly, or at least moreso than it would have been with the Best Picture bullseye. In that regard, it might have won bigger as a Best Picture loser than Moonlight did as a winner.

A24

So with that out of the way, it may finally be time to reflect that Affleck, not La La Land, should have faced a bigger backlash for being an Oscar favorite all along. And now that he won and La La Land didn't in the end, maybe the tide will turn in that direction.

La La Land was accused of being an undeserving favorite over a better, more minority-friendly movie that would have made far more positive and unprecedented history with a win. By that standard, Affleck should have faced the exact same amount of early attacks for being favored over Denzel Washington for the same reasons.

What's more, there was the extra layer of Affleck's multiple settled sexual harassment lawsuits being brushed over and ignored, which probably wouldn't have been the case if he wasn't white and wasn't an Affleck. Nonetheless, that didn't put him over the top to face the amount of anger that La La Land did for possibly winning, although it should have.

Amazon Studios

Many people clearly either didn't know about Affleck's checkered past, or didn't think it was an issue in judging his actual performance against Washington. In some regards, perhaps it shouldn't have been, although it shouldn't have been dismissed out of hand either. It is hardly a new situation, as men who've been accused of sexual harassment or much worse have still been rewarded for decades, from Woody Allen to Roman Polanski and to Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge nominations.

If Affleck really had delivered the best performance of the year, a case could at least be attempted to push all that aside, and many surely made it. But in this writer's opinion, that case truly cannot be made by comparing Affleck's Manchester by the Sea work to what Washington does in Fences.

Paramount Pictures

Washington chewed much more scenery than Affleck's much more muted performance, and usually the Oscars choose the louder actor. But sometimes such changes of pace aren't warranted, as volume and a lot more dialogue helped Washington convey the self-destruction of a man stuck in the past more powerfully than Affleck did with a quieter approach. In fact, even though both characters make devastating mistakes to harm themselves and those around them, Washington evokes far more sympathy, understanding and relatability for his own than Affleck can.

Several Oscar nominees and winners were able to convey everything about their character through their eyes and internal struggle. Yet in Affleck's case, there really isn't much life in his eyes, or anything besides one-note muted misery that mostly goes in circles. A case can be made that other nominees hit just one note too, but they brought far more life, layers and emotion to that note than Affleck was either capable of or was allowed to.

To be fair, Affleck's minimalism was by design, considering the kind of character he was playing. However, if the Academy really wanted to honor someone for a minimalist performance that shows more powerfully than it tells, then Loving's Joel Edgerton and Sully's Tom Hanks would have actually been better candidates. Instead, none of them were even nominated, although one can argue that they should have taken both Affleck and Viggo Mortensen's slots.

If Affleck really was Washington’s equal, if not his superior, then this would have all gone down easier anyway. But in this perspective and surely some others, very little that Affleck does really comes close to what Washington brings to life, just as many came to believe that nothing La La Land did was anything close to Moonlight’s kind of achievement.

Paramount Pictures

Even so, the ultimately premature La La Land attacks drowned out most attacks over Affleck’s potential and ultimate win. Yet whether or not La La Land should have been bashed for possibly denying a historic Moonlight win, there was just as much history that Washington would have made for a victory, and actually didn’t.

Washington would have become the first African-American to win three Oscars and two Best Actor trophies, would have made the 2017 Oscars the first to award three African-American actors in the same year, and would have made Fences the first film to have two African-American acting winners. And alongside Viola Davis, there wouldn’t have been a more deserving duo to make such history.

Not only that, a Washington win would have spared some particularly ugly optics when it came to Affleck and Brie Larson.

Larson won Best Actress last year for playing a sexual abuse survivor in Room, and has advocated for sexual abuse survivors in real life as well. Nonetheless, she still had to hand over the Best Actor Oscar to a man who’s been accused multiple times of sexual harassment, just like she did at the Golden Globes.

In both cases, it was very clear that she wasn’t over the moon about it. While she’ll probably refrain from explaining these muted reactions herself, it is very easy to guess why she had them.

Larson was locked into presenting Best Actor the minute she won Best Actress last year, and the Oscar voters surely didn’t factor her into choosing Affleck or Washington, nor should they have. Nevertheless, at least some of the voters had to know that having someone like Larson award someone like Affleck would not reflect very well on the Academy.

Maybe it would have gotten enough attention to get through to them if more critics spoke out about it beforehand, like they spoke out on trashing La La Land. Surely some did speak out about it, Affleck and the layers of both racism and sexism in his victory. But for some reason or another, such arguments didn’t rise to the heated level of the La La Land vs Moonlight debate in the final weeks.

Summit Entertainment/A24

Whether the growing tide against La La Land made a real difference towards its Best Picture defeat or not, it’s hard to ignore how Affleck didn’t ultimately face such a tide, although he probably deserved it more.

It might still be argued for years whether La La Land’s race issues, whitewashed nostalgia and other flaws should have stopped it from coming so close to beating Moonlight in the first place. Yet if that’s the case, then Affleck’s sexual harassment issues, the racial issues in beating the much more deserving Washington, the bad optics of his Oscar presentation and other flaws should come under equal or greater scrutiny in the future, especially since they didn’t when it counted.

Even if La La Land had won, it would have been a much more deserving Best Picture winner than Affleck was as a Best Actor winner. Now that La La Land isn’t even a Best Picture winner, perhaps Affleck can take its place as the most infamous 2017 Oscar victor instead.

Nonetheless, if the resistance to Affleck had been allowed to reach a La La Land level before now, maybe his far more tainted and undeserving win could have been stopped at the pass too.

Paramount Pictures/Amazon Studios

Tags: Moonlight (2016), La La Land (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Fences (2016), Casey Affleck, Denzel Washington, Brie Larson
About the Author
Robert Dougherty is a longtime online freelance writer, who wrote reviews, articles & editorials on movies/TV for several years on the now defunct Yahoo Voices.
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