Two late-breaking incidents in our long year of 2017 — the Year of the Scuzzball, sexual misconduct edition — served as a reminder of just how politically riven our culture has become.
The first controversy blew up in the wake of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a movie everybody likes except for the people who hate it. Through a bot-aided online effort to lower the film’s Rotten Tomatoes audience score, an ad hoc group calling itself “Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys” struck back at the film Rian Johnson wrote and directed.
Two writers from The Huffington Post contacted the group’s Facebook page moderator. By direct message, the moderator identified himself as a member of the so-called alt-right, and cited several sticking points regarding “The Last Jedi,” chiefly the prominence of female characters; flyboy Poe Dameron being turned into “a victim of the anti-mansplaining movement”; and an overall “feminist agenda.”
The unidentified man put it this way, in HuffPo’s money quote: “There was a time (men) ruled society and I want to see that again. That is why I voted for Donald Trump.”
Here’s the second, ideologically related incident. On Dec. 19, a street artist known as Sabo slapped posters up all over Hollywood. They depicted a smiling Meryl Streep, photographed alongside Harvey Weinstein, with a red slash across her face bearing two words: SHE KNEW.
Streep denies knowing anything about Weinstein’s behavior, beyond his famous and often public bullying of all sorts of film industry colleagues. Sabo identifies himself as a conservative, and he’d grown sick and tired of Streep and her ilk taking shots at his president. “She’s swiping at us so we’re swiping back,” Sabo told The Guardian.
He acknowledged that he didn’t really know if Streep knew anything about the depths of Weinstein’s predation, or the female careers ruined out of spite. “I can’t say 100 percent,” Sabo admitted. But that wouldn’t look as convincing on a poster.
In 2017, the floodgates opened, and the divisions in this country are filling up fast with polluted water. I wish I could say more confidently how the year that was will inform the movies that will be.
A lot of people, across the political spectrum, tell me they love movies because they have nothing to do with real life. The only thing liberals and conservatives seemed to agree on, in this first year of our current president’s adventures, was this: We’re living in the shadow of lies. The left pins them on one set of adversaries and threats to our democracy. The right pins them on Fake News and the inept, dishonest media. Plus Hollywood, because it’s conspicuously Democratic and, for the moment, a land of contrition. (Contrition and Trump are antonyms; look it up.)
Something, though, has shifted since the Weinstein revelations this fall, along with the Kevin Spacey revelations, and the Charlie Rose and Louis C.K. and James Toback revelations, and so many more. I think so. I hope so. In a power structure dominated by men, too many women have been disbelieved, exploited, sidelined, subordinated for too long. When I read actress Annabella Sciorra’s eloquent account (one of a slew) of how Weinstein derailed her career; when I read Salma Hayek’s excruciating chronicle of Weinstein’s terrifying behavior before, during and after the making of “Frida,” well … I mean, pick your example. There are too many. These past three months, especially, have been sad and enraging. Too many women and men I know are having a hard time shaking those two feelings at year’s end.
Here’s one of my hopes for next year, a hope that can be turned into a resolution. Whatever we see at the movies, wherever we see them, I hope we all think a little harder about what we’re seeing, and what the implications are. And who got to make it. And why.
In director Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment,” a movie about men exploiting women because they can, the New Year’s Eve scene finds Sheldrake, the executive played by Fred MacMurray, at a midtown Manhattan nightclub with his sometimes-lover, Fran Kubelik, the elevator operator played by Shirley MacLaine.
As “Auld Lang Syne” fills the smoky, noisy room, Wilder holds the camera on MacLaine’s face. Her character silently realizes that enough is enough. It’s time to do something.
When circumstances demand it, I hope we all get a close-up like that, in the private movies of our own lives. Out with the old. In with the new.
See you next year.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.