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Let's Talk About... Separating Art From the Artist: A Controversial Look Into the Past & Future of Hollywood

I'm a lover of all things film & I do my best to be as objective as possible when reviewing/analyzing the medium I hold so dear.

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Separating Art from the Artist

Hello there, fellow readers. Today I’m doing something a little different with my writing, something that honestly makes me relatively nervous to write about as I know full well that I’ll be delving into rather risky and extremely controversial topics involving the Hollywood industry. For the most part, when it comes to my writing, my articles are a fairly light read; movie reviews, top favorites/least favorites, and the occasional deep dive into a film franchise here or there. Nothing too heavy. So this will be a first for me to speak out loud about some of these very touchy subjects to share with the world… and I am utterly mortified. Truth be told, I’m not sure if my words will ever see the light of day, yet I still feel the urge to write about this as I find the topic fascinating and has been on my mind for quite a good long while now. That little hairy rascal of a subject, is of course, separating art from the artist.

My goals when analyzing the ‘separation of art from the artist’ is mainly centering on distinguishing films from their filmmakers, whether it’s right or wrong to draw that line between the two when an artist sabotages their own name and the reputations they represent. Should movies be held accountable for the actions made by their creators outside of the film’s production or should audiences be able to tell the difference between fiction from reality? If a cast or crew member perpetrates a crime, should we then disregard any positive merits they might have achieved through the medium of filmmaking in the past? If so, then where do we draw the line before everything cascades out of control to the point where we’re wiping out whole chunks of cinema history and world history in general? Will these harsh reactions to one person’s deeds eventually result in practically no form of media in the world anyone is actually “allowed” to enjoy? Does it take one bad egg to ruin a cinematic experience or are there steps to possibly avoid the destruction of an artist’s entire filmography? Is it possible to appreciate a one’s art while still acknowledging the artist may not be a good person? These are just a few of the questions rattling through my brain that I would like to explore here. Hopefully if anyone is still reading this then there may be some hope others would like to join in the conversation as well.

I have asked a series of questions to a number of individuals to provide perspectives outside my own. Hopefully this will help the reader gain the best understanding possible on the subject.

I have asked a series of questions to a number of individuals to provide perspectives outside my own. Hopefully this will help the reader gain the best understanding possible on the subject.

When I bring up the topic of “separating art from the artist” in the Hollywood industry, how do you personally interpret that term and what are your feelings to

I think of it as the person who created the art. I think they should stop getting paid for their participation of that said art.

— Sherri H.

Separating art from artist in its simplest form, to me, translates as a cognitive need to understand that the creators we follow are their own individuals - even if they often represent a specific group/company/movement. As such they do have their own personal ideals, opinions, and thoughts that may not always directly reflect the people they work with or the content we enjoy.

— Sarah C.

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*DISCLAIMER*

Please, for anyone reading, keep in mind that what I say is not law and is simply one’s personal opinions on the matters at hand. This article is not meant to delve into the legalities, evidence, crimes, or dispute the facts of any case; although I will unfortunately have to bring up minor details of numerous explicit/criminal acts in order to provide context to the present conversations. Be warned that the acts described are extremely sensitive and graphic topics that may offend or upset some readers. That being said, this article will mostly be me sharing my perspective on why I think it is important that we, as a society, need to start mentally separating films from the terrible deeds wrongly associated with them. While also attempting to understand both sides of the argument and why even my point of view might be mistaken.

Do not mistake my article as an endeavor to defend anyone’s actions, especially some of these certain individuals I will be mentioning in the paragraphs to come. I know, full well, what these people have committed/allegedly committed were wrong and despicable; there is no denying that. My only issues come from when people punish or wish to publicly crucify the collaborative art made within their filmography rather than the actual person who perpetrated the atrocities. With that said, if what I’ve written so far has offended anyone, I might recommend that they stop from continuing onward into my article. However if everyone is still on board, then please join me in this very long, strange and controversial piece.

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I personally don't find it difficult, no. Though I do see how it can be easy for some to associate an artist with a certain genre, character, or trope after repeated creations with these reoccuring things. For example, people may think a particular actor must be a jerk in real life because he frequently portrays villains in movies. Vice versa, they may think an actress is sweet and loveable because she only stars in romantic comedies. Neither things are necessarily true.

— Sarah C.

I personally if I know they have been involved in a dirty crime I just boycott the art in question.

— Sherri H.

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The Spark

What sparked this article for me was completely random as I was lazily scrolling through Twitter one gloomy and rainy Tuesday afternoon [May 11, 2021] only for me to notice an odd little topic trending on the side of the page, ‘Jeepers Creepers.’ My first immediate thought, of course, was the 2001 horror film of the same name starring Justin Long. Turns out that’s exactly what the trending subject was about, a reference to the movie was made in a Tweet showing off a photo of a shadowy figure driving an old beat up truck, wearing a cowboy hat; hilariously reminiscent of the antagonist from Jeepers Creepers. At first I thought nothing of this post, other than my brief amusement witnessing the creepy yet goofy image… then I scrolled down. As I scrolled further and further down the page, the Tweets rapidly became less focused on the movie itself, but rather the creator responsible for the franchise, Victor Salva.

The original tweet.

The original tweet.

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Who Is Victor Salva?

If anyone reading this is unaware of who Victor Salva is, allow me to shed some light on the man. Salva worked in Hollywood as a writer-director for roughly thirty years mainly under the horror genre, his most notable work would be creating, you guessed it, the horror franchise known as Jeepers Creepers. He was involved with all three installments of the Jeepers Creepers movie series produced between 2001 to 2017. Victor was also involved other productions that even included filming for Disney in the mid-1990s.

Jeepers Creepers Trailer

Before all of that success though, early in Salva’s career, in 1988 he was convicted of sexual misconduct with one of his underage stars during the production of his first full length feature film, Clownhouse. Upon the revelation of Salva’s inappropriate relations with a 12 year old boy, it was also discovered that he kept multiple videotapes and magazines containing child pornography inside his home. Salva pleaded guilty to all counts he was charged with at the time, serving 15 months in a state prison on a 3 year sentence. After completing his parole in 1992, Salva was back on track making movies again until the year 2017 when the #MeToo movement had first erupted online.

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Salva's Victim

Shunning the Art

Anyways, as I continued reading through the Tweets, they briefly shifted gears from lighthearted humor on the original post to fondly remembering the Jeepers Creepers features. Which then quickly became mostly a debate on whether people should still like the movies or not on the sole basis that its creator was a convicted pedophile. Many users verbally attacked others for giving any form of praise to the movie strictly because Salva was so heavily involved in making the movies, even though most who did speak positively towards the picture never remotely mentioned the writer-director. So what do we do with this information?

It is absolutely important to separate a person from their creations. I feel it can be dangerous to assimilate a person into their art so much so that they are no longer art and artist; but a singular entity. They ARE the things they create, as opposed to reality that they are a person creating things. The danger lies in that the associations we form can be wildly untrue, and the connections might create negative or biased thoughts about a person.

— Sarah C.

For example: a director only signs up for horror movies, so he must be a pyschopath because he only creates movies with people getting murdered. Or, an actor must be happy because they star in a lot of comedies, when in reality they suffer from severe depression.

— Sarah C. (Continued)

Is it right to dismiss the quality of a wretched man’s art? Or should we look at the film exclusively on its own and judge it accordingly on what it actually has to offer? In all honesty, this is a rather difficult argument to settle. Maybe at the end of the day it’s all about the context surrounding the art and scenarios being discussed. On one end of the debate we have people who claim if anyone supports the product, despite the quality of said product, they are guilty of supporting the creator. To an extent, I suppose that is a fair parallel. People who watch and praise the man’s work are unintentionally supporting him; as favorable word of mouth spreads, so too does views and sales of the product, which in turn more than likely winds up in the pockets of said creator unless there’s been legal acts enabled to prevent it. At least that’s what we all can assume.

On the other side of this quarrel, we have those who claim people should be able to choose for themselves what to think about a movie. Also reminding everyone to realize that a film is never just one man’s work as there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of other men and women who contribute to the piece as well. Again, another fair stance taken. Yes, the writer and director are very important pieces to any production, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who worked their asses off to finish that picture. Not to mention, the writers and directors aren’t the only ones who suffer the consequences either when support of their hard work tragically concludes.

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I personally do see the person who is in question in the movie and make my choice not to watch all together if known.

— Sherri H.

While every movie is the result of a combination of efforts from teams of hundreds of people, there will always be those who stand out more than others. Everyone remembers Aladdin, but it was Robin William's voice acting that made the movie so memorable and quoteable even 20 years later. Then there are movies like Titanic, where we all remember that it was Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett staring, and that James Cameron directed it.

— Sarah C.

But it's the Celine Dion song that is usually one of the first things people remember most. I think it's an unintentional association with projects. Sure we all know that movies are a team effort, but no one ever knows the name of the key grip or caterer.

— Sarah C. (Continued)

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It’s Just a Horror Movie… Made By a Monster!

Another strangely interesting argument brought up in the multitude of Tweets on Jeepers Creepers was the quality of the films. Some say the movies are still effective at being scary to them, despite the association held with Salva. One person discussed how he doesn’t even care for any of the Jeepers Creepers movies as he found them to be pretty bad, yet he still stood up for the side defending their fondness of the franchise, so long as it wasn’t directed towards Salva of course. Then came a rather unique perspective that I hadn’t quite pondered before; someone mentioned the fact that these are horror movies centered on the premise of a predator hunting down young men as it craves devouring their flesh… that’s surprisingly rather off-putting when I think about it. Especially since Victor was the only person who wrote the story and screenplay of all three entries. Admittedly it’s somewhat hard disconnecting fiction from reality when there is so much subtext written in mirroring the disturbing desires of this horrid man.

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Then again, as someone else brings to light, it’s a horror movie. A horror movie is supposed to be creepy and disturbing. At no point does the movie ever seemingly paint the creature or its motivations in any positive light as it is always made perfectly clear that it is undoubtedly the antagonist and should not be applauded. Plus, let’s be honest, this premise of cannibalistic monsters targeting the youth has been recycled for decades; making this a pretty generic baseline of a retread, even by 2001’s standards. Although when that unnerving bit of context is still known about the writer’s possible mindset during his creative process, thinking on how he once viewed and preyed on the youth, how can one forget it?

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I suppose it’s up to the viewer themselves to decide whether they can or can’t enjoy a movie knowing all the unsettling details. In my opinion, the first Jeepers Creepers remains a fun and creepy flick that I have enjoyed watching on occasion. Even though I understand the people who can’t enjoy it anymore and their reasons, I don’t particularly agree with those individuals who tell others that they’re not allowed to enjoy it either. Regardless of whether I like the film or not, I definitely don’t and won’t ever condone the actions of its creator from all those years ago.

Why Some Won't Support Jeepers Creepers

So That’s One… Out of Several More.

Alright, so that was one case… but there are so many more sinister cases involving similar dilemmas. What are we to do? Do we take it case by case or should there be a fast-acting blanket form of rebuttal to when our stars have a fall from grace? Keep in mind, this is not simply one form of artist that we’ve run into circumstances like this; writers, directors, producers, actors, etc. have all been found guilty of one thing or another in their time. Before, during, or after the production of the several films they were a part of, these individuals were consorting in awful deeds. What are we to do with the art they’ve left behind?

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I would agree only because I myself wouldn't watch and contribute to the money they make. I know I am only one person, but if I even contributed 1¢ to that person it would be too much. For me it's very easy to dismiss movies or even music due to my strong opinion.

— Sherri H.

Completely disagree. As we touched on in previous questions, a movie is a compilation of hundreds of people working together to accomplish one goal. Refusing to watch, shunning, (or in extreme cases banning) movies with accused participants is an enormous disrespect to the dozens of other people who worked hard and put their heart and soul into the project who had nothing to do with the controversy.

— Sarah C.

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The Big Fish

Let’s talk about the gigantic fat piece of sh*t elephant in the room; the guy we all know and hate which is Harvey Weinstein. Many would argue there is currently no higher power in making movies outside of the producer’s chair, sadly Harvey Weinstein absolutely abused that abundance of power to horrific effect. A man who accumulated an insane amount of power over his 30+ year career in Hollywood as a movie producer, while also manipulating people with that power behind closed doors. In the last few years Weinstein has been tried and convicted with literally dozens of criminal charges including sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Thankfully Harvey has been found guilty on some of the charges and sentenced to 23 years in prison as of 2020, with likely more convictions to come.

Weinstein Sentenced

In a lot of ways, Weinstein’s crimes are what initiated this domino effect in the first place. Because of the several brave women who came out to accuse Weinstein of his awful misconduct, that subsequently created the hashtag campaign known as #MeToo; referring to possibly hundreds, maybe thousands of people who were encouraged to speak aloud about their own stories of being sexually mistreated by men in power. Because of this movement, many assholes in the Hollywood industry were revealed as the monsters they really were. In my opinion, this is utterly fantastic and I’m glad these people wronged were finally able to find their voice to stand up to the oppressors taking advantage of them.

What started it all.

What started it all.

Unfortunately the charges bestowed on these disgusting men are slowly becoming merely a stepping stone in bringing the offenders down socially as well as criminally, as it appears the next step is to target the films and television shows they’re associated with; again, referring to individuals like Victor Salva. Nowadays, the internet has become a very big fish maintaining a large presence in the Hollywood industry. The internet, like many tools, can be used to do some real good yet also has the potential to harm with its unforgiving and vindictive attitudes; especially when it comes to what we refer to presently as ‘Cancel Culture:’ a somewhat determined group of mostly good-willed individuals trying to clean up the filth in our current pop culture, “canceling” certain individuals who may have done wrong by today’s standards whether it be criminally or ethically. However, there are more than a handful of examples where Cancel Culture has gotten wildly out of hand due to many times they forget that they’re playing with people’s lives while they treat celebrities less like a person and more like their toys, disregarding context of topics in order to escalate nonexistent issues, not to mention trying to erase the filmographies of some Hollywood stars as they see any support of their art as automatically morally wrong.

Although it seems that so far this ‘canceling’ mentality has been a relatively minor side effect of a good cause, I can’t help from worrying if this snow ball effect persists how the damage might eventually outweigh the good. How big will this fish become before it consumes everything? Where do we draw the line?

Down the Rabbit Hole

Looking at the side of this whole debate claiming the only way to truly put a stop to the evil-doer’s reputations are by fully eradicating the art they’ve distributed, which isn’t exactly an easy thing to do while also somewhat misguided in my eyes. Sure, it might be feasible to some degree, at least with smaller fish such as Victor Salva. Except when we start down this path, we’d then have to focus our efforts on the much larger picture. Going back to Harvey Weinstein who produced legitimately hundreds of projects; including but not limited to Pulp Fiction, Scream (all sequels included), Mimic (all sequels included), Cop Land, Princess Mononoke, Air Bud, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (also the Rob Zombie Halloween installments), Scary Movie (all sequels included), Spy Kids (all sequels included), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring/The Two Towers/Return of the King, Equilibrium, Gangs of New York, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2, Bad Santa, Sin City, Clerks II, Rambo (2008), Zack and Miri Make a Porno, The Fighter (2010), Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Paddington, Lion (2016), Wind River, The Hateful Eight, and many more!