When John Oliver brought up allegations of sexual misconduct with Dustin Hoffman, the audience of the panel discussion he was chairing started to squirm. They didn’t want to see one of their favourite actors ambushed over something that may or may not have happened decades ago! They wanted lighthearted banter, a few glitzy name-dropping anecdotes and a warm, fuzzy feeling to take home afterwards.
What they actually got was an increasingly tense half hour of Oliver refusing to let Hoffman off the hook over the claims from Anna Graham Hunter, who had alleged that she was a 17-year-old production assistant on Death Of A Salesman when Hoffman groped her and asked her inappropriate questions about her sex life.
Hoffman was rattled, defensive and self-pitying, and although Oliver was hailed around the world for taking him to task, the talk-show host has now said he feels that he “failed”.
“It wasn’t ideal but it became such a big story,” he said. “But it became about my questions rather than his answers.
“The questions weren’t particularly remarkable, but his answers were … not great. That was the point of it. But it didn’t really go anywhere constructive, so the whole thing just made me feel sad.”
Oliver is right – the questions are not remarkable, but they became much remarked upon. He should not be paraded around as the saviour of women, because what he did shouldn’t be seen as an act of heroism. It should be how all men react to stories about sexual misconduct, assault, abuse and harassment – first by interrogating their own behaviour, and then by holding their fellow men to account.
But men don’t want to do this, especially publically. So, even though Oliver is disappointed in how he handled things, it still meant something. For Hoffman’s accusers, Anna Graham Hunter among them, it meant a lot and they co-signed the following open letter thanking Oliver for his approach:
The reason Oliver’s action seemed so radical is because, as Hoffman’s accusers state, “few men put themselves at risk – socially or professionally – to have uncomfortable conversations with other men”.
There is far too much responsibility being placed on women to uncover, speak out against and fix the problem of assault and harassment, and that is not fair. Consider how Meryl Streep has been blamed for the entire film industry’s silence on Weinstein.
Women are already doing the emotional labour in coming to terms with their abuse, finding ways to deal with their trauma, support one another and warn one another. For all the strength of the #MeToo movement, it once again asks something of women – that they speak out.
It’s time for men to take on some of the legwork. And that doesn’t mean clarifying what they believe constitutes sexual assault (Matt Damon)
It’s time for men to take on some of the legwork. And that doesn’t mean clarifying what they believe constitutes sexual assault (Matt Damon). Or seizing the moment to make supposedly edgy jokes at the situation (James Corden). Or reminding everyone that you’re a father of daughters (everyone).
In his original confrontation with Hoffman, Oliver suggested that the actor’s “apology” statement over allegations of sexual misconduct was inadequate: "It's 'not reflective of who I am' – it's that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off," he said during the panel. "It is reflective of who you were. If you've given no evidence to show it didn't [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. It feels like a cop-out to say, 'It wasn't me.' Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?"
At the end of the conversation, Oliver explained to the audience, who felt their buzz had entirely been killed, why he felt the need to bring the matter up with Hoffman: “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed. That leads to me at home later tonight hating myself, asking, ‘Why the fuck didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”
There are a lot of people in the post-Weinstein world thinking about why they didn’t say something. Well, now is their opportunity. Because men saying something doesn’t mean speaking over women’s voices – it means asking potentially awkward questions of each other. It means believing women even when they don’t want to. And it means calling out other men when they behave badly, whether it’s an inappropriate joke or a poor grasp of the concept of consent, whoever that man is – best friend, family member, boss, hero or A-list movie star.