Casey Affleck’s publicity team is shoring up defenses as old sexual harassment allegations threaten to upset his Oscar campaign for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Affleck has been a presumptive contender since January’s Sundance Film Festival — but scrutiny is growing over two settled claims of inappropriate behavior and unwanted advances on the set of his 2010 directorial effort, “I’m Still Here.” On Tuesday, the National Board of Review named “Manchester” the best film of the year, and Affleck the best actor.
Select media outlets have asked why so little attention has been paid to the matter, noting that Affleck has received friendly profiles, but that Nate Parker’s Oscar chances for “Birth of a Nation” were badly wounded by heavy coverage of a rape case in which he was acquitted in 2001. No one is saying the cases are identical: Parker’s was criminal, while Affleck’s was civil. And Parker’s accuser took her own life, years after he was found not guilty.
A Daily Beast story on Affleck and the allegations hit over the Thanksgiving holiday, and mobilized the actor’s heavy-hitting PR team to counter the narrative as he continues to rack up honors for “Manchester.” Slate ran a story the next day.
Mara Buxbaum, ID Public Relations president and Affleck’s rep, has worked to contain the story. Over the weekend, she contacted an entertainment reporter who shared the Daily Beast post on social media, asking him to call her. (He took the story down.)
A representative for Affleck declined to comment on the matter, except to say that the cases were settled to the satisfaction of both parties and the lawsuits were dismissed.
In one case, Affleck was accused of calling women “cows” and ordering a crew member to expose himself as a joke. In the other, “I’m Still Here” cinematographer Magdelena Gorka said Affleck joked that she should have sex with a camera assistant, and that she once woke up in bed with Affleck to find him wearing a T-shirt and underwear, stroking her back. The actor vehemently denied all of the accusations and counter-sued.
Aside from the old allegations, his campaign is rolling on flawlessly. “CBS Sunday Morning” featured Affleck and correspondent Tracy Smith meandering through Boston’s Fenway Park, talking about his superstar brother Ben Affleck and his bartender dad.
“Manchester” captivated Sundance in January, and immediately put Affleck in Best Actor race. Amazon acquired the film for a staggering $10 million.
Affleck’s performance has been almost universally admired, and represents a leading man return for Affleck since his Oscar-nominated performance in 2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
He has enjoyed recent high-profile supporting turns in the gritty crime drama “Triple 9,” “The Finest Hours” and in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.”
Several stories pondered the disparity in treatment of Affleck and Parker as a matter of race. As Mashable pointed out, a fevered obsession over the latter’s rape case immediately overshadowed press surrounding the release of “Birth” (for which Fox Searchlight paid an even more staggering $17.5 million).
Affleck, meanwhile, was honored at the Telluride Film Festival.
And the honors keep coming. On Monday, Affleck was named Best Actor by the IFP’s Gotham Awards. Affleck will accept the Palm Springs Film Festival’s Desert Achievement Award come Jan. 2. And he may also be up for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations.