In an interview out this month, actor Gary Oldman (for those of you non-Gary Oldman scholars, he plays The Dark Knight trilogy’s beloved Commissioner Gordon and the Harry Potter film franchise’s beloved Sirius Black) told Playboy magazine some incredibly shocking things. Like, any-way-you-slice-it-these-comments-are-hateful things. Among his more colorful (horrifying) statements, Oldman went on a tirade against political correctness, defending homophobic, sexist, racist, and anti-semitic comments made by fellow celebrities Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin. His argument? It’s “hypocritical” for the public to be outraged when homophobic/sexist/racist/anti-semitic slurs are used by celebrities, because everyone uses these slurs privately, but only famous people are condemned when they spit out hate speech in the public sphere.
This is just untrue. If I found any of the hateful words Oldman uses as examples in my mouth, I would wash my mouth out with all the soap I could find. I wouldn’t even want my mouth anymore, I would hunt around Craigslist and eBay trying to find a new mouth I could Buy Now on the cheap. This just makes me a fairly good person of the fairly normal variety. I think most people who are educated and sensitive and aware of the enormous weight words carry wouldn’t be caught dead with hate speech coming out of their mouths.
So the good news is Oldman DID apologize. That’s always great. But there’s a problem Oldman’s apology: I’m not sure he’s entirely clear on what he should be apologizing for.
First of all, he apologizes to the “Gentleman of the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League)” as opposed to apologizing to, you know, everybody, and what he apologizes for is that his comments were “insensitive” to the Jewish people and contributed to “the furtherance of a false stereotype.” He then goes on to talk about this book he’s reading, An Empire of Their Own: How The Jews Invented Hollywood, making the point that his career owes a great debt to the Jewish entertainment community.
An apology is an apology, and that’s good, I guess, but what if your apology makes it abundantly clear you have no clue what you should really be sorry about? Oldman’s statements hurt everyone who belongs to a minority community and who has been slapped in the face by hate speech. Oldman’s apology feels like he doesn’t really understand that slurs are a weapon, and if you’re comfortable with slurs, you’re comfortable using that weapon against others, to make people feel powerless so you can feel powerful.
I’m glad he apologized to the ADL and the Jewish community (though that last line basically read “I’m reading a book that made me realize that the people I insulted are heavy-hitters in my profession, so here’s my suck-uppy ‘I’m sorry, please don’t let Batman and Harry Potter be the last franchises I ever do’ apology” rang incredibly false to me) but he really should have apologized to everyone and he REALLY should have thought longer and harder about what exactly he was apologizing for.