It is a tale as old as time, or at least as old as the early 2010s. It typically unfolds like this: a celebrity makes a statement about how they definitely don’t deserve the backlash they are receiving for their alleged indiscretions. Instead, this is all just proof of how cancel culture has gone too far. In the latest instalment of this continuous tale, Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey took to a stage at Oxford University to set the record straight, I suppose?
On Monday 16 October 2023, Spacey performed a five-minute scene from the Shakespeare play Timon of Athens, a satire that centres around themes of wealth, greed and betrayal. Modern critics have described the work as an exploration of what is now often called “cancel culture.” Spacey’s recent appearance was part of a lecture about the internet practice and was met with a standing ovation by his audience.
Oxford might be one of the most prestigious research universities worldwide, but clearly, they haven’t done their homework on Spacey if they think he should be allowed anywhere near young men… Confused as to why the actor has been cancelled? Don’t worry, here is a full breakdown of everything that went down. And let me tell you, it was a lot.
It all began on 29 October 2017, when Star Trek actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of making sexual advances toward him at a party that took place in 1986, while he was intoxicated. At that time Rapp was only 14, whereas Spacey was 26. Within a little more than a week later, 15 other men came forward and alleged that Spacey had sexually harassed, assaulted or attempted to rape them. Five of these men said they were teenagers when these instances took place. To top it all off, Spacey also appeared to be on flight logs from Jeffrey Epstein‘s private jet from the early 2000s. Do I need to say more? Didn’t think so.
On 9 September 2020, Rapp sued the House of Cards actor for sexual assault, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under the Child Victims Act. In this legal action, he sued the actor for $40 million in damages and was joined by another accuser, who preferred to stay anonymous. On 20 October 2022, a jury found that Spacey did not molest Rapp. In July 2023, another jury in London cleared Spacey of sexually assaulting four other men.
Well, Spacey reacted to the accusation on X, formerly known as Twitter. In his statement, he came out as gay while apologising to Rapp and dismissing the incident as inappropriate, drunken behaviour that he couldn’t remember if it even occurred. Nonetheless, a lot of LGBTQIA+ advocates rejected his response and the timing of his coming out, arguing that it was fuelling harmful stereotypes that portray gay and bisexual men as predatory and conflate homosexuality with paedophilia.
To say that Spacey fared well after the accusations would be an overstatement. On the heels of the controversy, Spacey was sacked from his hit show House of Cards. In fact, Netflix cancelled another film project with the Academy Award winner to sever all ties with the American Beauty actor.
The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences also reversed its decision to honour Spacey with an International Emmy Founders Award. On 2 November 2017, Variety reported that even Spacey’s publicist Staci Wolfe and talent agency Creative Artists Agency both decided to end their relationships with him.
Nevertheless, it would also be an overstatement to say that Spacey has been an irrevocably harmed victim of cancel culture, forever condemned to punishment and obscurity. Especially in light of the fact that he has been able to dodge legal punishment for his actions so far.
In December 2020, Spacey was charged with a felony for allegedly sexually assaulting anchorwoman Heather Unruh’s 18-year-old son. He pleaded not guilty. While a lawsuit was filed by Unruh’s son in 2019, it was voluntarily dismissed the claims with prejudice later on. The only thing that might have hurt Spacey was a lawsuit against him and his production companies M. Profitt Productions and Trigger Street Productions, in which they were ordered to pay $31 million to MRC, the studio that produced House of Cards, for violating its sexual harassment policy.
Yet despite all of this, Spacey has still been cast in several movies since his accusers came forward. Furthermore, he was given a lifetime achievement award by Italy’s National Museum of Cinema in January this year. And now, a standing ovation at Oxford University. Really can’t say he is doing so badly either…