CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual harassment and assault.
Sir Ian McKellen made it almost his entire career without fucking up in some significant way, but here we are.
The beloved actor made a few comments about the recent wave of sexual assault and harassment stories, and they’re not going down too well.
He was speaking at a packed Oxford Union earlier this month, and was asked by an audience member to comment on the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
“People must be called out and it’s sometimes very difficult for victims to do that,” he said. “I hope we’re going through a period that will help to eradicate it altogether.”
So far, so good – but then he shared an anecdote claiming actresses would offer sex in return for roles, and then claimed that these same women were later turning around and falsely crying victim.
“But from my own experience, when I was starting acting in the early 1960s, the director of the theatre I was working at showed me some photographs he got from women who were wanting [acting] jobs,” he said. “And some of them – I think these were the initials – some of them had at the bottom of their photograph ‘DRR’: directors’ rights respected. In other words, if you give me a job, you can have sex with me. That was commonplace from people who proposed that they should be a victim.” McKellen chuckled to himself. “Madness!”
He then appears to go back to the train of thought that a system whereby women are taken advantage of is inherently bad (thank christ). “DRR,” he repeated. “Directors rights respected. People have taken advantage of that and encouraged it and it absolutely will not do. I just assume that nothing good can come out of it.”
But then he went back to being weird and probbo, using this opportunity to cast doubt on those same victims coming forward by asking: what about those falsely accused?
“I assume nothing but good will come out of these revelations, even though some people get wrongly accused — there’s that side of it as well,” he said. “Honesty, honesty, honesty.”
It’s worth remembering that studies estimate less than five percent of rape accusations are false, and are often made out of fear of recrimination rather than seeking revenge. The British Home Office noted in 2005 that “there is an over-estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police officers and prosecutors which feeds into a culture of scepticism,” leading to less women reporting sexual assault to the police.
And it’s exhausting for people in power to persist with this narrative that false accusations are somehow prevalent, and made by people out for financial gain.
“This concern with protecting men from false accusations of rape went beyond the ‘not guilty until proven innocent’ standard, and led to arguments of nearly unlimited admissibility of evidence regarding [the complainant’s] character,” noted criminology researchers Raymond Paternoster and Ronet Bachman in the early 90s. “This combined with cultural conceptions of rape and early rape laws, placed serious impediments on the adjudication of rape cases.”
Anna Graham Hunter, who publicly accused Dustin Hoffman of sexual harassment on the set of Death of a Salesman, spoke about the myriad difficulties of getting her story published, and then those accusations of others.
“What the public perceives as an onslaught is just a fraction of what’s going on,” she wrote for the LA Times. “For a few reasons” – like the reluctance of women to speak about their trauma, or the high standards publications have for reporting accusations – “we will never know all the stories of ugliness at the hands of well-known men.”
Gandalf, I love you, but one more mention of false accusations or fake victims and Lord of the Rings is officially cancelled.
You can see McKellen’s talk below; skip to the 41-minute mark for sexual harassment comments.
If you would like to access support for issues around sexual harassment or assault, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.Image: Getty Images / Joshua Blanchard