A movie poster for the film L.A. Confidential displayed in the Roy H. Park School of Communications’ basement was vandalized with the phrase “believe survivors” sometime between March 28 and March 29. It was on display because an Ithaca College graduate worked on the development of the movie.
L.A. Confidential starred actor Kevin Spacey, who recently fell into disgrace after over a dozen allegations that he sexually abused young men — several of whom were minors — were made public. Following these accusations, nearly all shows, talent agencies and actors associated with Spacey dropped him.
After the vandalized poster was found, the college removed it from the display case. Diane Gayeski, dean of the Park School, said the poster was removed not because of the vandalism but rather because the school realized that its presence may offend students and other members of the campus community. She also said that the school will be looking at other posters or film memorabilia that may offend the community in wake of the #MeToo movement and that the school may take action to remove those as well. The school is also not actively searching for the vandal, and the incident was not reported to the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management.
It is encouraging to see that the college does not have plans to prosecute a member of our campus community for this act. It is also admirable that Gayeski is not treating the vandalism as a crime, but rather as thoughtful commentary. The vandalism itself is a much-needed reminder of the complacency institutions can allow themselves to fall into during the time of the #MeToo movement, and how the college must always be cognizant of the ways it can continue to engage in difficult conversations regarding the movement with students. Gayeski said in a tweet that she also believes these discussions are important and that she hopes to use the vandalized poster as a centerpiece for next year’s Women in Media Month.
However, the college’s response prompts a critical question: Why wait?
Because this year’s Women in Media Month — a series of events held by the Park School in March, Women’s History Month — just ended, the vandalized poster will not be discussed again for nearly a year. Given the timeliness of the incident, it is strange that the college is not making an effort to discuss the incident now. While the incident will never fully lose its relevance, it will, frankly, be stale by the time the college discusses it.
The vandalized poster prompts important questions about how media students should perceive and consume films after they have been tarnished by the actions of the people involved in making them. Can we separate art from its problematic contributors? Can the actions of one individual be enough to condemn a work made by multiple artists? How do we consume film that now has a dark cloud hanging over it due to the reprehensible actions of its actors or producers? These are the questions Gayeski wants us to engage with, so let’s engage with them now. Gayeski should display the poster in the lobby and let students stop to ponder it and strike up nuanced conversations with their friends about pressing media issues.
Ultimately, discussions of #MeToo and sexual abusers’ impact on an industry that affects so many of our Park School students should be encouraged, and delaying discussion about the poster accomplishes the opposite. Sexual abuse is not unique to women in media, and to offer a discussion about the vandalism only during a set month takes away from its relevance to the campus community. If the college wants to address this issue in a way that is meaningful to its community, it should spark this discussion now.