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Kevin Spacey Shouldn’t Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it? 

Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing powerhouse Harvey Weinstein. Spacey was a beloved actor whose roles in everything from “The Usual Suspects” to “House of Cards” made him a pop cultural icon; the year he fell from grace, he even hosted the Tony Awards. That all changed when actor Anthony Rapp gave an explosive interview to BuzzFeed accusing Spacey of assaulting him at a party when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was 26. What were once whispers about Spacey’s impropriety towards younger men suddenly became insistent shouts. The case that was just dropped emerged shortly thereafter as a man who was 18 at the time accused Spacey of groping him at a Nantucket bar in the summer of 2016. Spacey tried to get ahead of the damage by claiming that the accusations against him were rooted in homophobia, subsequently coming out himself as gay — but the damage was done. 

Hollywood scrambled to erase Spacey from its screens. Director Ridley Scott moved heaven and earth to excise Spacey from his 2018 feature “All the Money in the World,” replacing him with Christopher Plummer despite the fact that filming had long been completed when the Spacey scandal broke. Netflix’s “House of Cards” finished the series without him, killing his character offscreen so that Robin Wright — who just earned her sixth Emmy nomination for the role — could step into Frank Underwood’s Oval Office. That was a huge move that clearly stated the show must go on — it just needed to go on without him. Spacey, clearly angry about the decision, posted a rambling YouTube video in December titled “Let Me Be Frank” in which he sneered in a thinly veiled version of his “House of Cards” character about people “rush[ing] to judgment without facts.” He also defiantly declared: “We’re not done, no matter what anyone says.”

Spacey remains under investigation for sexual misconduct allegations in the U.K. and in Los Angeles. But with the only criminal charges brought against him to date now dropped, Spacey may hope that he can find a way back into the industry that has so far shunned him. Barring likely insurance concerns, it’s possible that he’ll be able to find some sympathetic collaborators with whom to work. Earlier this year, in fact, screenwriter Paul Schrader stated that A24 — the production company for his lauded film “First Reformed” — had asked him to stay off Facebook after he posted about wanting to work with Spacey. “Spacey should be punished for any crimes his actual person created. But not for art,” Schrader wrote. “All art is a crime. Punishing him as an artist only diminishes art.”

Schrader may be the only one to have said as much in such stark terms, but given his stature and many established Hollywood co-workers, he’s unlikely to be the only one to believe it. If Spacey wants work, he’ll find it, eventually. 

Just because the charges were dropped, however, doesn’t mean that many won’t (or shouldn’t) be wary of working with him again. After all, it was Rapp’s story that began the tidal wave of disdain against Spacey, a story well outside the statute of limitations for criminal charges but one that nonetheless resonated with enough people (and received enough backup in other similar accusations) to mar Spacey’s reputation for good. Sexual assault cases are so rarely taken seriously at the time the crime is allegedly committed that sometimes, telling the story on their own terms is all a survivor can do. Anyone who believes in that tried and true fact will just believe that Spacey has escaped tangible consequences for abusing his power once again.

If anyone wants to work with Spacey again, that’s their right and prerogative. But survivors of sexual assault and the people who know and love them are more than aware of the legal system’s failings in this arena, and won’t be convinced by a single case falling apart on technicalities. Spacey would have to do a hell of a lot more than skirt the issue as he has thus far in order to win them over. But let me be frank: At this point, given the breadth of allegations against him and his own palpable disdain, he almost definitely can’t. 

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