The final trailer for DC’s new movie Aquaman was released today, just one month before the movie’s wide release on December 21. The highly anticipated film stars Jason Momoa as the titular character, alongside an exciting cast of women like queer fave Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman. Aquaman will be DC’s first solo movie since the 2017 release of Wonder Woman, a huge win for the comic juggernaut, as it drew a wave of praise from female critics for its feminist story and imagery. Naturally, DC has some big shoes to fill after such a major success with the Gal Gadot-fronted film. But in a world that elevates the stars of DC films as real-life heroes, I’m disappointed that Jason Momoa is starring in their latest venture.
Last year, a video surfaced from a 2011 Game of Thrones Comic-Con panel, which Momoa was featured on. The video shows Momoa, who played the sexually abusive chieftain of the Dothraki, making a gruesome comment about getting to “rape beautiful women” on the show.
“As far as sci-fi and fantasy,” Momoa began, “I love that genre because there are so many things you can do, like rip someone’s tongue out of their throat and get away with it and rape beautiful women.” While the “joke” drew some awkward laughs from the crowd, some of his co-stars, like Lena Headey, looked embarrassed—and rightfully so, as that is a mortifying statement.
In the wake of last year’s numerous allegations against Harvey Weinstein, as well as a groping accusation against Momoa’s Justice League co-star Ben Affleck, the Comic-Con joke resurfaced, and Momoa subsequently apologized on Instagram. “I awoke in Australia to the justified reactions by many people to a distasteful joke I made years ago in Hall H for which I am sorry,” he said. “I am still severely disappointed in myself at the insensitivity of my remarks that day. I know my sincerest apology now won’t take away those hurtful words. Rape and sexual harassment can reach anyone and I have seen first hand its painful torment among members of my own family and friends. I made a truly tasteless comment. It is unacceptable and I sincerely apologize with a heavy heart for the words I said.”
A lot can change in seven years, and people are certainly capable of growth. I sincerely hope Momoa has grown, and actually does feel badly about his vile joke, which insinuated that “raping beautiful women” was a perk of his job. However, it’s hard for me to believe that a person who would find something as traumatic as violent rape to be funny, has actually changed his opinion on such. He had six years to apologize for the joke, but actively didn’t until he was called out by a Twitter user in a since-deleted tweet last October. If he really felt bad, he would’ve shown an ounce of remorse in the six years prior.
Personally, I’m not friends with any man who would make such a depraved comment, because I know that men who are comfortable joking about rape also willfully perpetuate rape culture, and are—in my experience—always transitively comfortable with engaging in acts of sexual violence, assault, harassment, or misogyny. So, Momoa showed us his true colors once. But he apologized—does that mean we should forgive, forget and move forward?
I’m not sure. Logically, it feels like the answer is “yes.” But his comment could only elicit emotional reactions from survivors of sexual abuse—and those people are the ones who should be able to decide if the comment is forgivable. After Momoa chose to make that “joke,” he became tainted in my eyes, and now, it’s very hard for me to see him in the context of a “superhero,” nor do I want to see someone like that in a hero role. The juxtaposition makes my stomach churn.
In Justice League, where Momoa was introduced to the DC universe alongside Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s Batman, I felt aggrieved watching his powerful, brawny presence near Wonder Woman, the feminist hero of the DC movie universe. It’s not possible to forget what he said. It’s certainly possible to forgive — the problem is, we forgive way too easily.
That is when it comes to men at least. Last week, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hit theaters. The movie stars Johnny Depp, who was very publicly accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife Amber Heard, as the titular villain. Like Momoa, Depp was introduced in an earlier movie in a smaller role (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). However, Heard’s allegations against her ex-husband came to light in May of 2016. The first Fantastic Beasts was released six months later, so many fans thought Depp’s role should’ve been recast, as it was a very minor part. When the second film in the franchise was announced, fans demanded that Depp’s character be replaced. Obviously, he wasn’t, which unintentionally sent a disturbing message to Amber Heard and all victims of domestic violence: your stories don’t matter. Or at least, not enough to change things.
Similarly, Momoa’s massive role in the DC universe as the beloved hero Aquaman sends a poor message to victims of rape and sexual violence. Obviously, Momoa wasn’t accused of rape, but he did make light of it, which is unsettling, to say the least. It seems like male actors can get away with saying or doing whatever they want, no matter how wicked, or at whose expense, and continue to thrive in their careers — and be lionized publicly.
Mel Gibson has starred in films almost every single year since he used racial slurs and threatened to rape his ex in 2010. Louis C.K. has been weaseling his way back into standup by — ironically — non-consensually showing up to New York City’s Comedy Cellar to perform unannounced sets. C.K. was amongst those accused in last year’s reckoning for multiple offenses of masturbating in front of women without their consent. Now, he is forcing his way back into comedy—and no one is stopping him.
Again, I’m not sure if we should never forgive people for saying and doing these things—some acts are unforgivable, but for other lesser offenses, redemption might be possible in the eyes of many people. The question is: Where do we draw the line? And is that line based on a logical decision, or an emotional reaction? As a person who has survived multiple forced encounters with nonconsensual sex, I don’t think I’m capable of forgiving Momoa for what he said in 2011. Those words have left a stain on him, and every time I look at him, I’m disgusted by them all over again. And maybe that’s worth noting: I just can’t forget, and that’s my final answer. I’ll never be able to look at him the same way — and certainly not as a hero.
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