Cheers for Kobe Bryant’s Oscar win were a jarring twist in the MeToo era
James Franco was missing from the Oscars ceremony after allegations of sexual harassment. So why did a basketball star accused of rape win plaudits?
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in a Times Up discussion with women from various industries. We shared personal experiences of sexual harassment and abuse and, upon leaving the discussion, I felt a sense of hope that womens voices were finally being heard and that abuse will no longer be tolerated.
Then Kobe Bryant won an Oscar.
I havent seen Bryants animated short, Dear Basketball, so I cannot attest to its artistic merit although it could be The Godfather and my dismay would still stand. But I do know that the hope I felt in the weeks prior suddenly dissipated.
In June 2003 a 19-year-old hotel employee accused Bryant of raping her in his Colorado hotel room her blood was on her underwear and the NBA stars t-shirt. The case never made it to trial as the accuser, who had been put through the wringer by media and Bryants defense team, made the decision to not testify. Instead, the woman asked that Bryant issue an apology and she filed a separate civil suit, which Bryant settled with the terms kept private.
In Bryants apology he said, Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
Kobe moved on with his life. He retired with five NBA titles and more than $300m in career earnings, seemingly unscathed. He suffered no major repercussions for an encounter he admitted could have been non-consensual, and his marriage survived despite his infidelity.
So in a world where #MeToo and Times Up grab headlines, how does Bryants Oscar win affect these vital movements?
At the 2016 Oscars, Wagatwe Sara Wanjuki stood on stage with 50 other survivors during Lady Gagas performance to raise awareness about campus sexual assault. In a Facebook post on Sunday, Wanjuki wrote about how those who make allegations of abuse can have their lives ruined the woman who accused Bryant of rape had her sexual history and mental health aired in public at the time of the case.
I reached out to Wanjuki, who works at Daily Kos, and asked her if she felt Bryants win undermines the progress made in the wake of #MeToo and Times Up. The fact that Kobe was even nominated by the Academy after they expelled Harvey Weinstein highlights how necessary initiatives like #MeToo and #TimesUp are, Wanjuki wrote via email.
With this in mind, Wanjuki does not believe the movements have lost momentum or value. What it revealed is the necessity to keep talking about sexual assault, and to look beyond the abuser. We have to look at abusers enablers as well. The assailants are not the majority, but they need the complicity and support of others to keep harming.
Gaby Kirschner, a sports journalist who has also covered campus assaults, feels that Hollywood discredited the movements while showing inconsistencies in what types of behavior will be tolerated. I was appalled when Kobe was even nominated James Franco clearly lost out on his Best Actor nomination for The Disaster Artist because of [sexual misconduct] allegations, yet Kobe is being nominated and winning in spite of them? It completely discredits the movement, and makes it seem like as soon as enough time has gone by allegations just turn to dust in the wind. Thats a movement based on optics, not change.
Kirschner says when the crowd cheered Bryant as he accepted his Oscar, there was an air of hypocrisy. No movement can be successful unless there is consistency, when it comes to both the decisions and response, she says.
Collectively though there is agreement that, despite Bryants win, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture: supporting survivors of sexual assault and continuing to bring awareness to the issue.
All of the abusers cannot be dispelled overnight. It isnt until everyone is willing to stop collaborating with and celebrating abusers will be stop having moments like last night. We clearly have a long way to go, Wanjuki says.
With this in mind, we must remember we are dismantling a culture that has devalued the voices of survivors. Change will happen, it just may not be at the pace we want.