Scandal-hit Casey Affleck has withdrawn from presenting the best actress award at the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the actor's publicist told AFP on Thursday. Neither gave a reason for Affleck pulling out of the March 4 ceremony, but the announcement comes after renewed attention on historic accusations of sexual harassment against the 42-year-old star. "We appreciate the decision to keep the focus on the show and on the great work of this year," an academy spokesman told AFP.
In 2010, Amanda White and Magdalena Gorka, the producer and cinematographer on his poorly-received directorial debut, mockumentary I'm Still Here, sued Affleck for what they described as repeated sexual harassment. Affleck, who has always vehemently denied any wrongdoing, employed the services of celebrity lawyer Marty Singer -- known as "Hollywood's guard dog" -- and settled for an undisclosed amount in both cases.
The lawsuits began making headlines again around a year ago, in the run up to Affleck winning a best actor Oscar for his restrained, devastating performance in Kenneth Lonergan's family drama Manchester by the Sea. Tradition dictates that best actor winners present the following year's award for best actress, and vice-versa. There has been widespread speculation over whether Affleck would take part, however, as the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct gathered force following numerous allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and others.
News of his withdrawal was broken by Mike Fleming Jr, a writer for the Deadline Hollywood website, who said he had heard the actor "did not want to become a distraction from the focus that should be on the performances of the actresses in the category." "He was in a no-win situation, with all the attention surrounding the #MeToo movement. The specter of Affleck presenting would have created controversy," Fleming added. Affleck's publicist Mara Buxbaum confirmed he would not be attending but did not elaborate.
The twin lawsuits painted the actor at best as a manipulative ringmaster, an image at odds with his own self-projection as a fame-shy artist toiling away on the edges of an industry that had long overlooked his talent. Among the most egregious of the allegations -- all of which Affleck rejects -- White says the star got an assistant cameraman to expose himself, despite her protestations, during a flight. Gorka left the project after treatment described in her lawsuit as "the most traumatizing of her career," accusing Affleck and other crew members of openly talking about engaging in sexual acts with her.