Comedian Bill Cosby is an understandably touchy subject these days. The 77-year-old stand-up has been accused of drugging and sexual assaulting nearly two dozen women, many of whom are only now coming forward about incidents they say occurred several decades ago, and reports of his misconduct have been all over the media for many weeks.
So when Phylicia Rashad—who played Cosby’s wife Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show for 8 years—gave an interview with Showbiz 411, there was little doubt she would be asked about the Cosby accusations. And boy, did she ever answer. Rashad defended Cosby against the women who’ve accused him of sexual assault in the strongest possible terms.
Nearly immediately after these comments were made public, backlash ensued. People are understandably upset with Rashad, 66, whose loyalty to Cosby seems to come at the expense of the many, many women who have come forward and bravely told their stories. At The Frisky, Amelia McDonell-Parry writes, “for Phylicia Rashad to actually publicly dismiss these women and their stories as if they are nothing but a nuisance is disgusting and enormously insulting to all survivors of sexual assault.”
As for Rashad’s implication of a conspiracy surrounding Cosby, Salon’s Erin Keane notes: “As conspiracy theories go, it’s an odd one whose motives remain elusive even to ardent supporters.”
So is there a way to excuse those comments? Of course it’s difficult to imagine that someone you love and are close to would be capable of committing serial violence against women, and Rashad’s history with Cosby has almost certainly created loyalty between the co-stars. But the actress’s impulse to brush off serious claims and try to explain it as some kind of massive conspiracy to discredit Cosby’s body of work is concerning on many levels.
It’s true that Cosby’s legacy has far-reaching implications for television and stand-up comedy everywhere. Many shows today stand in the footprints of the Huxtables, Cosby’s comedic prowess and their depiction of a close-knit, loving, and affluent African American family. But the thing is that even enormous talent and influence can not excuse the kind of crimes Cosby stands accused of. And while Cosby has denied many of the claims, it’s still crucial to take the many, many accusations of sexual assault seriously, rather than brush them off. To discredit the gravity of these claims is to insult sexual assault survivors everywhere. It’s hard to imagine Claire Huxtable would disagree, but then here we are.