Academy Museum's Dilemma: How to Handle #MeToo Offenders

Academy Museum's Dilemma_Comp - Getty - H 2020
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Nearing completion, L.A.'s $388 million shrine to motion pictures must decide whether to erase names like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey or confront "the darker side" of the industry.

Before the Academy opens the doors to its long-awaited museum later this year, it will need to face a tricky issue: how to acknowledge Hollywood's #MeToo reckoning. After all, the list of Oscar winners accused of sexual assault continues to grow, including Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Paul Haggis and even the late Kobe Bryant. Similarly, there's a long line of winners who have been accused of sexual harassment. And that's to say nothing of the golden-era moguls whose behavior would fall squarely into #MeToo malfeasance. To date, only Polanski and Weinstein have been kicked out of the Academy. (Bryant was denied an Academy invitation after his win in 2018).

How exactly curators and programmers plan to weave in the message is a work in progress. An Academy Museum spokesperson tells THR it "will explore the full scope of film history including conversations around such issues as the #MeToo movement" and present stories "within contexts that are complete, thoughtful and transparent."

Still, some fear that the Academy will simply avoid the thorny topic by excluding some offenders from displays. A source familiar with programming says the early moguls, for example, are not expected to be highlighted. Instead, talent will take center stage. (In depicting MGM's glory days, say, think more Judy Garland, less Louis B. Mayer).

"Most of the displays were donated by the old-school membership, before the Academy had an awakening," says the source. "The question is: Will the person who donated the artifact have a say in how it's presented?"

Many museums that offer an overview of an industry or profession face similar dilemmas. The Baseball Hall of Fame displays Pete Rose artifacts but without explanation of his lifetime ban for gambling on games. O.J. Simpson receives an annual invite to the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies.

Hollywood historian and Brandeis University professor Thomas Doherty says the Academy Museum should tackle sexual misdeeds head-on. "You can't whitewash this stuff," he says. "You can't deny the dark side of Polanski. But you also can't deny that Chinatown might be the best movie of the 1970s."

And if Polanski is missing from the museum altogether, that's a bigger mistake, he explains. "That's Stalinism, where you erase somebody," he says. "If this museum is to have any credibility as a repository of Hollywood history, it's got to recognize the darker side of its past."

Academy member Marina Zenovich, who directed the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, expects the museum will exclude Polanski and others. "I think you should confront it, but I don't think they will because it makes people feel uncomfortable. And that is tragic to me because I think art should survive despite the story behind it," she says.

A possible blueprint for the Academy Museum might be U.S. presidential libraries, whose function is to be both commemorative and historically accurate. "The Nixon Library celebrates Nixon for opening China, for his domestic accomplishments. But then they have a whole section on Watergate," says Doherty. "You can contrast that with the Clinton Library, which whitewashes the Monica Lewinsky scandal."

The Academy will also need to balance what the entertainment industry cares about with the interests of the public. "They'll have to choose between what is offensive to people in the industry and what is offensive to my aunt in Omaha, who doesn't care that Louis B. Mayer was a monster," says the source. "The donors aren't the ones who are going to be buying tickets at the gate."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.