It’s the holiday season, and with that joyous news comes a series of inevitable things. Starbucks have brought back their red cups of sugary milk, Oxford Street has become even more of a living nightmare than it usually is, and there is a terrible Christmas movie being released. This year, the big one is Daddy’s Home 2 (tagline: more daddies. more problems) which sees two very different families spending Christmas together. I’m assuming absolutely no hilarity ensues that is funny to anyone over the age of 14.
Front and centre of this cinematic masterpiece is Hollywood’s favourite repeatedly-disgraced-but-somehow-still-working actor, Mel Gibson. Whilst promoting the film, Gibson has - amazingly - chosen to speak out about the ongoing sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood: “Things got shaken up a little bit and there is a lot of light being thrown into places where there were shadows and that is kind of healthy. It’s painful, but I think pain is a precursor to change.” In case you are unfamiliar with his previous work, and why it is genuinely incredible that these words have come out of his mouth, here is a quick and handy round-up. And no, I don’t mean Braveheart.
In 1991, when asked his opinions on gay men by a reporter at Spanish newspaper El Pais, he responded: “They take it up the ass. [laughs, stands up, bends over, points to anus] This is only for taking a shit.” He continued, “With this look, who’s going to think I’m gay? I don’t lend myself to that type of confusion. Do I look like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?” Four years later, when asked by Playboy if he intended to issue an apology to gays and lesbians as recommended by GLAAD, Mel replied, “I’ll apologize when hell freezes over. They can fuck off.”
In 2006, when arrested for drunk driving in Malibu, he unleashed a triple-whammy of verbal abuse, calling the female police officer “sugar tits”, telling another “I own Malibu…I am going to fuck you”, and most famously, using the opportunity to accuse one of the officers of being a Jew with the following, “Fucking Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world… Are you a Jew?”
In 2010, his then-wife, Oksana Grigorieva, filed for a restraining order against him. She alleged that he punched her multiple times, breaking a tooth and giving her a concussion. He pleaded no contest to the battery charge and received no jail time, despite a tape emerging in which he clearly admits to striking her whilst she was holding their baby daughter, telling her that “you fucking deserved it”.
In another leaked tape, he was recorded saying the following to Grigorieva:
“You look like a fucking bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of ni**ers it’ll be your fault. All right? Because you provoked it. You are provocatively dressed all the time, with your fake boobs, you feel you have to show off in tight outfits and tight pants (garbled) you can see your pussy from behind. And that green thing today was enough. That’s provocative. OK? I’m telling you. I’m just telling you the truth!”
After all of this combined - and it’s not exactly clear which of these numerous straws broke the camel’s back - Mel Gibson’s career stalled for a bit. He was condemned by Hollywood bigwig Ari Emanuel and head of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal. Gibson disappeared for a while, seemingly disgraced. But last year, he reappeared - not in front of the camera, but behind it as director of Hacksaw Ridge. During the promo tour for the film, when questioned by host Stephen Colbert on his past behaviour, Gibson seems totally unrepentant. There is not even a hint of an apology.
“It’s a moment in time,” he said. “It’s a pity that one has to be defined with a label from, you know, having a nervous breakdown in the back of a police car from a bunch of double tequilas, but that’s what it is…That moment in time shouldn’t define the rest of my life.” Every time Gibson has been asked about his litany of misdemeanors, his response has always been more annoyed than repentant or sorry.
On an episode of Variety’s Playback podcast, he was similarly unrepentant when asked about the arrest, “I was loaded and angry and arrested. I was recorded illegally by an unscrupulous police officer who was never prosecuted for that crime. And then it was made public by him for profit, and by members of — we’ll call it the press. So, not fair. I guess as who I am, I’m not allowed to have a nervous breakdown, ever.” Incredibly, Mel Gibson seems himself as the victim. Hacksaw Ridge went on to win two Academy Awards.
And now Gibson is finally back in front of the camera (ignoring 2009 flop The Beaver), starring in festive-fun-for-the-whole-family-film Daddy’s Home 2. In it, Gibson plays a macho bad-grandad character, taking the piss out of the more emotional daddies and giving advice to a young boy that echoes the gross entitlement we have become used to when it comes to famous men and their treatment of women. Incredibly, Gibson’s character is the one we as the audience are meant to root for and identify with. It’s worth noting that Gibson’s co-star in this film is Mark Wahlberg (playing his son), who executive-produced Entourage - an absolute bro bible of a show that doesn’t so much parody the toxic masculinity of the film industry as luxuriate in it. Aside from creating a grossly misogynistic show, Wahlberg has a history of being a violent racist piece of shit, throwing rocks at black teenagers whilst shouting racial slurs at them, and beating up a Vietnamese man in a racially-aggravated attack so badly that he was blinded in one eye.
What does Mel Gibson’s quiet comeback suggest about how we as a society punish famous men? We are well-versed in the idea that men’s careers will be hurt by accusations of sexual misconduct, but in reality this rarely happens. Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Donald Trump, Casey Affleck, Roman Polanksi, Woody Allen…all are men who have been accused (and in some cases convicted) of domestic and/or sexual assault. None have really had their careers harmed in any way. Johnny Depp landed a campaign as face of Dior’s ‘Sauvage’ perfume shortly after recordings emerged of him physically and verbally abusing former partner Amber Heard. Casey Affleck won an Oscar despite being sued by two employees for sexual harassment. Donald Trump is President of the United States following numerous accusations of sexual harassment, including towards a 14-year-old girl.
In the rare cases where these men feel the need to issue a response or an apology in any way, this usually follows a similar pattern or list of excuses. They were in a “bad place”, they are “troubled”, they were in the middle of a “nervous breakdown”, they are or were inevitably suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse or sex addiction. This is maybe followed by a brief stint in rehab or away from the camera while they “cure” themselves and then reappear as if nothing happened, all seemingly forgiven and forgotten.
One argument that is often churned out is that the quality of these men’s work is too high for us not to forgive them - think of all the art we would have lost had these actions ruined their careers! It should be of no surprise that this same line of thought has been deployed around Gibson’s comeback. David Permut, producer of Hacksaw Ridge, said of Gibson: “I think Mel has been misunderstood by people who may not know him, but nobody can take his talent away. Ultimately, I think time heals.”
Critic David Edelstein echoed the sentiment in his review of the movie for Vulture: “Say what you will about Mad Mel Gibson, he’s a driven, febrile artist, and there isn’t a second in his war film Hacksaw Ridge…that doesn’t burn with his peculiar intensity.”
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal and the avalanche of allegations, confessions and open secrets that have followed in it’s wake, it seems that maybe things are changing. Maybe these men will begin to be held accountable for their actions. Maybe their well-being and careers will stop being seen as inherently more important than those of the women and minorities they routinely trample on. Maybe we’re entering a new era of accountability, where men who are horrifically abusive towards women don’t go on to get lead roles in Christmas movies where they make jokes about ‘dead hookers’ for cheap laughs.
Or maybe Mel Gibson’s clusterfuck of a career provides the perfect template for what will happen to these famous, disgraced men. A meaningless apology, some cut ties, a few years under the radar quietly living off a $425 million fortune, followed by a couple of Academy Awards and a lead role in a film that has grossed $53 million and counting at the box office in the two weeks since it was released.