The times they are a-changing, but not everyone seems able to keep up. At least that’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on recent allegations against actors Billy Murray and Frank Langella.
In an era where accountability for past transgressions and boundaries around current behaviors are rapidly increasing, how should we view those who came into their fame with a different set of expectations? The former NBA star has some thoughts on the matter.
Bill Murray and Frank Langella are facing controversies
There’s no denying that expectations around certain behaviors, especially those deemed sexual harassment, have changed. Recent years have seen a spate of allegations against (primarily) male celebrities for their past and current actions. Between the #MeToo movement and the “Time’s Up” declaration, the tide has changed from a historical norm of tolerated sexual misconduct and casual sexism leaking into Hollywood culture.
The consequences for men who overstep these freshly defined boundaries can be serious. Bill Murray recently saw a shutdown on the film, Being Mortal, after what he called a “difference of opinion.”
As CNBC reports, Murray said, “I did something I thought was funny and it wasn’t taken that way.” He went on to say he was in conversation with the woman in question and they were trying to find common ground and a way forward. “It’s been quite an education for me.”
Meanwhile, Netflix fired Frank Langella from an upcoming series (Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher). The 84-year-old called this role his “last hurrah,” according to Vanity Fair. But now it looks like he won’t get the chance to take on the part.
The dispute arose during an intimate scene where Langella allegedly refused to take the intimacy coordinator’s advice about hand placement. He called the instruction “absurd” and went ahead with his own placement to better capture what he called “instinct and spontaneity.”
Unlike Murray, Langella is not taking the opportunity to educate himself. Instead, he’s lashing out against “cancel culture” in a column for Deadline that claims the treatment is unfair.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in on the controversies
Abdul-Jabbar wrote that he empathizes with Murray and Langella’s place in this cultural moment: “Bill Murray and Frank Langella are old guys. So am I. Which is why I can understand how they suddenly found themselves confused and dazed by accusations of inappropriate behavior.”
He claims that they spent decades in a “rarefied atmosphere” that allowed a particular kind of behavior that’s no longer accepted. Abdul-Jabbar recognizes the challenges of adapting. but he also insists it is necessary: “I do know the struggle sometimes to adjust to new social standards, new cultural consciousness. I was a teenager during the beginnings of the Women’s Liberation Movement.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar draws comparisons to other current events
For Abdul-Jabbar, the controversy around Murray and Langella’s actions isn’t limited to what did or didn’t happen on the set. It’s about a larger cultural climate that fails to respect women and their boundaries. He points to the behavior as “part of a larger pattern of suppression” and connects it to the Pink Tax, which is the extra money women pay for comparable products marketed to men.
Abdul-Jabbar is also in touch with the way women face larger cultural pressures on their rights. He points to protesters of the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade and the way Republican Matt Gaetz (himself under investigation for an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old) dismissed the protesters as “overeducated” — as if being educated and a woman was a bad thing.
In the end, Abdul-Jabbar understands that Murray and Langella are up against a shift in cultural norms. He also recognizes why that shift is happening and needs to continue. It’s on the “old guys” to get with the times.