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Spacey Unmasked review – far more than a did-he-didn’t-he exposé

Ten men, including a boxer and an ex-marine, make allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour against the star who was once box office dynamite. Then this documentary goes even further

In Kevin Spacey’s written right-of-reply statement at the end of Spacey Unmasked, he reminds the world that every criminal and civil court case accusing him of sexual assault has been resolved in his favour. He has a right to reiterate that fact. Public opinion, however, has long since turned against an actor who was one of the most acclaimed in the world when he won Oscars for The Usual Suspects and American Beauty, but who has been an industry pariah since Netflix fired him from House of Cards in 2017. This new two-part documentary details further allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Spacey Unmasked is more, though, than a blizzard of marks on one side of an is-he-isn’t-he ledger. Viewers who are minded to believe what is alleged in these interviews are given a picture not just of whether an A-list actor came to abuse his position, but how.

The programme collates allegations made by 10 men, most in the US, some who worked with Spacey when he was the director of the Old Vic theatre in London. With the exceptions of one who was at high school with Spacey, and another who says he encountered him in 1981 long before he was famous, the men all level more or less the same accusation: an influential man made unwanted advances to them and, at the time, they didn’t feel able to complain. Only one has come forward publicly before.

We are shown a familiar picture of Hollywood and the arts/entertainment industry – as they were before the #MeToo movement, in any case – as a place where stars are corrupted by being handed too much power. When a whole multimillion-dollar project hinges on the ability of one performer to draw an audience, it will be a brave junior colleague who accuses them of bad workplace behaviour. But when those giving testimony are men, the problem underlying #MeToo revelations – old-fashioned, rotten misogyny – is absent.

Instead, the secondary problem here is the lingering stigma of being gay. In the second half of the 1990s, Spacey reached the very top of the acting profession and wasn’t known for romantic lead roles that would require him to portray heterosexual men, yet still he felt unable to come out. He only did so in 2017 when the first allegation was made against him, in a move that was widely criticised by LGBTQ+ commentators who felt he was using his announcement to deflect criticism. Before then, anyone accusing Spacey of groping them would also have been outing him as gay.

One interviewee here claims to have witnessed Spacey viciously mocking two gay men in a bar. Another says that when he rejected the actor’s advances, what really riled Spacey was the implication that he was homosexual. The impression given is of a man who has spent his life raging with shame at what he is, with this anger manifesting as abuse. This narrative, and the fact that Spacey made his name playing scheming, self-hating villains, is turned into dark tragedy by the appearance of the actor’s brother, Randy, repeating his contention that their late father was a neo-Nazi who beat and oppressed his sons and who repeatedly raped Randy.

That the accusers are all male means Spacey Unmasked adds something valuable to the wider discussion about sexual misconduct. Get over it, women are often told: what harm does it really do if your boss slyly leans his body against you or puts his hand on your thigh when no one can see? Spacey has never been accused of anything as serious as the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, or of what his brother says their father did. But here we see stereotypically strong men – a boxer, an ex-Marine – vocalising how a single negative experience still deeply affects them psychologically, years later.

Anyone tempted to dismiss the incidents described as minor – man up mate, no harm done, why didn’t you just say no? – cannot describe the person talking as weak, because there is then a second, third and fourth man with the same emotional response. (Spacey has hit back at the programme, criticising the lack of detail in the allegations that were put to him and the time he was given to respond. He has also described some of his interactions with other men as “clumsy” but maintains that his conduct “wasn’t illegal, and nor has it ever been alleged to have been illegal”.)

Spacey Unmasked’s alleged victims are all men, but not all the interviewees, tellingly, are male. Two women who worked on House of Cards recall seeing what a California judge later agreed was inappropriate behaviour amounting to workplace harassment: the bitter experience gained over years of daring to exist as female suggests they could tell from across the room when a conversation had the wrong vibe, or when a hand was resting on the wrong part of someone else’s body. Anyone watching Spacey Unmasked will gain some of that wisdom.

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