Ordeal by Innocence: Replacing Accused Actors

James Hadley explores the recasting of Ed Westwick by the BBC following allegations of rape.

James Hadley
25th April 2018
Image Credit: @christiancooke1 (instagram)

With the exposure of rapist, serial-abuser, and all-round awful person Harvey Weinstein in early October of last year, sparking the ‘#MeToo Movement’, our media culture seemed at least to be making baby steps towards a place where victims of sexual assault felt more able to speak publicly about their experiences and their harasser(s).

Though people still seem to think it’s just a ‘Hollywood Problem’ rather than a systemic one, the increasing number of accusations being levelled at (almost exclusively) male actors and executives since Weinstein can only be a sign of forward progress and a general, necessary, good. The most recent UK allegations involve Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick, set to star in the Agatha Christie/BBC drama Ordeal by Innocence which aired earlier this month, minus Westwick. After Kristina Cohen, a fellow actor, came forward with disturbing accusations of forceful rape against the 30-year-old in November 2017, which were then followed by other accounts from two more women, Westwick’s scenes in the miniseries were removed and reshot with Christian Cooke in the role.

Cohen, who had apparently woken up in Westwick’s spare bedroom to find him on top of her, stated “I fought him off as hard as I could but he grabbed my face in his hands, shaking me, telling me he wanted to f*** me. I was paralysed, terrified. I couldn’t speak, I could no longer move. He held me down and raped me.” Westwick denied the allegation, tweeting ‘I do not know this woman. I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape.’

Perhaps refusing to represent someone accused of such horrible actions on television ... is another step in the right direction

The situation, however, always attracts its (usually male) doubters. Questions are asked: “What if she’s just saying it for attention? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? How can we destroy someone’s life over accusations?” While in a kind of moral vacuum, these may well be legitimate questions, the real world requires more from us. Given that as low as 2% of investigated rape allegations turn out to be untrue, the extremely high rates of sexual assault/harassment in our society against women (and other groups as well, especially trans people), and the astonishingly low numbers at which abusers are actually prosecuted, it seems obvious at this point (to most except the sceptics) that we need to be continuously moving away from such a virulent culture of abuse and objectification perpetrated by men, often in positions of power.

Perhaps refusing to represent someone accused of such horrible actions on television, as if their crime should for some reason have no bearing on their being allowed to work, is another step in the right direction. We should be addressing the cycles that allow for these things to continue unabated, and, at the end of the day, if simply “not vibing” with other cast members is a good enough reason to remove an actor from a show (miss you, Fresh Prince’s first Aunt Viv), then having possibly raped someone seems as good a reason as any.

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