Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush is one of the few celebrities accused of sexual misconduct who is fighting back. In a defamation lawsuit filed in Australian federal court, Rush claims that “spurious claims with bombastic titles” were printed about him in the Daily Telegraph without evidence. The Guardian reports that Rush is suing News Corp subsidiary Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran “over articles published by the Daily Telegraph in November and December last year that reported on alleged ‘inappropriate touching’ of a female colleague” during the Sydney Theater Company production of King Lear in 2015.
The allegations of Rush’s accuser, Eryn Jean Norvill, are somewhat vague. The Guardian reports that the court heard testimony saying he “touched his cast-mate in a manner that made her feel uncomfortable while carrying her on stage in front of an audience of hundreds of people” on five separate occasions. According to Tom Blackburn, the barrister for News Corp, “She said stop [and] he didn’t, he went on doing it.”
Rush’s barrister, Richard McHugh, argues that Rush wasn’t aware of what he was being asked to stop doing, and that he had to continue touching her because it was part of the play. “To this day it’s not clear what they’re saying,” McHugh said. “Not just unclear, it’s completely opaque.
Had these accusations against Rush been made at any other time — in 2015, say, when they are alleged to have occurred — it’s probable that not much would have come of them. The matter would, most likely, have been handled privately, and the newspaper coverage of it would probably have blown over quickly. The details are incredibly vague — nothing like the near-pornographic detail of the allegations against other celebrities like Harvey Weinstein or Louis C.K. But, in the #MeToo era, the Daily Telegraph jumped on the story, calling Rush “King Leer” and running at least nine stories painting him as a pervert.
Within a movement that lumps wolf whistling and off-color jokes in with rape, it’s hard to get a clear idea of who’s an actual criminal — or workplace harasser — and who isn’t. The waters have been muddied such that everybody pretty much looks the same way — and that’s guilty. Did Rush inappropriately fondle his co-star? Was it all a misunderstanding? Is the co-star trying to capitalize on the #MeToo movement by dredging up an awkward — but ultimately harmless — encounter? The fact that we’re not sure — that we’re asking these questions at all — is a problem.
Rush now claims that the effects of these accusations have been disastrous for him, and his family. The Washington Post reports that Rush’s lawyers filed an affidavit on Monday outlining the “emotional and social hardship” he has endured since the allegations against him were made. The affidavit claims that he is now “constantly associated in Australia and internationally with the ‘#MeToo’ movement.” This has caused him to become “virtually housebound.” When he does go out, the affidavit continues, he is “full of anxiety as he believes people are staring at him in a way that is very challenging, frightening and unnerving.” He has “lost his appetite and barely eats,” and “wakes up every morning with a terrible sense of dread about his future career,” which he believes to be “irreparably damaged.”
If all this is true, Norvill has ruined Geoffrey Rush. The question is: did he deserve to be ruined? Is he a sexual pervert who likes to grope women in front of hundreds of people? Or is he just a guy who, in trying to carry his co-star onstage, accidentally touched her somewhere he shouldn’t have? We don’t know. But, in the #MeToo era, not knowing doesn’t seem to matter. The fact that some actors really are sexual perverts, and the fact that we don’t want to discredit anyone’s accusations out of hand, has created a climate of guilty until proven innocent — and maybe not even then.
Some actors are sexual perverts. And we don’t want to discredit anyone’s accusations out of hand. But now we’re throwing the good— or at least innocent — guys under the bus. I don’t know if Rush is innocent or not. But, with the evidence we have, there is at least room for doubt. Are we willing to ruin a man’s career — and maybe his life — over a question mark?