It’s an image seared in our cultural memory: Mel Gibson—eyes bleary from alcohol—staring directly into camera, his face ruddy, bloated, and glistening with a sheen of sweat. But enough about the 2017 Academy Awards. We’ll talk about those later.
This year marked what’s been described as a comeback or redemption for Gibson, whose decades-long career stalled following a string of controversies beginning in the mid-aughts. Starting in the late 1970s and going into the ‘90s, he had built a name for himself with Australian and American action series like Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, then moved into directing with films like Braveheart (which he also starred in) and Passion of the Christ. Gibson had created an image that wasn’t just tough, but also moralistic, making his downfall—which occurred concurrently with his 2006 film Apocalypto—all the greater.
2006 was a particularly rough year for the actor/director. Not only was he pulled over for drunk driving in Malibu, but a transcript of his sexist and anti-semitic rant against his arresting officers was leaked to TMZ, creating what, at the time, was considered a career-ending scandal. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” he raged to a male deputy, aggressively asking, “Are you a Jew?” Then to a female sergeant: “What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits?”
But this moment in which Gibson displayed such shockingly blunt anti-semitism and sexism did not, in fact, end his career. Nor did the leaked 2010 audio tapes—which Gibson claimed were heavily edited—of him berating ex-girlfriend and mother of his child Oksana Grigorieva, despite the shocking verbal abuse that included both incredibly racist and misogynistic epithets.
Grigorieva: I don’t, I don’t, I don’t walk around in tight clothes, I stay at home for most of the time.
Gibson: Yes, you fucking do. You go out in public and it’s a fucking embarrassment to me. You look like a fucking bitch in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it’ll be your fault. All right? Because you provoked it. You are provocatively dressed all the time, with your fake boobs, you feel you have to show off in tight outfits and tight pants (garbled) you can see your pussy from behind…
From the second leaked tape:
Grigorieva: You need medication.
Gibson: I need a woman! Not a fucking little girl with a fucking dysfunctional cunt. I need a fucking woman. (panting) I don’t need medication. You need a fucking bat in the side of the head. All right? How ’bout that? You need a fucking doctor. You need a fucking brain transplant. You need a fucking, you need a fucking soul. I need medication. I need someone who treats me like a man, like a human being. With kindness, who understands what gratitude is, because I fucking bend over backwards with my balls in a knot to do it all for her and she gives me shit, like a fucking sour look or says I’m mean. Mean? What the fuck is that? This is mean! Get it? You get it now? What mean is? Get it? (panting) You fucking don’t care about me. I’m having a hard time, and you fucking yank the rug, you bitch, you fucking selfish bitch. (panting) Don’t you dare hang up on me.
Gibson and Grigorieva also discuss physical violence that occurred during a domestic dispute:
Grigorieva: (angry) You were hitting a woman with a child in her hands. You. What kind of a man is that? Hitting a woman when she’s holding a child in her hands? Breaking her teeth, twice, in the face, what kind of man is that?”
Gibson: (sarcastically) Mmm, ooh, you’re all angry now …
Grigorieva: You’re going to get to, you know what?
Gibson: You fucking deserved it.
Grigorieva: You’re going to answer, one day, boy, you’re going to answer.
Gibson: What, what? What are you threatening me?
Grigorieva: Nothing, nothing. I’m not the one to threaten.
Gibson: I’m threatening, I’ll put you in a fucking rose garden, you cunt. You understand that? ‘Cause I’m capable of it. You understand that? Get a fucking restraining order. For what? What are you going to get a restraining order for? For me being drunk and disorderly? For hitting you? For what?
Following another incident with Grigorieva in 2011, Gibson was arrested again, this time on a misdemeanor battery conviction. He pled no contest.
In the past six years, Gibson has laid relatively low with a handful of under-the-radar parts and the occasional escorting of Jodie Foster to award shows. With the industry-lauded release of Hacksaw Ridge, a World War II film directed by Gibson, 2016 and 2017 have been dubbed his comeback years, a redemption after years away from the spotlight caused by... what was it again? The industry can hardly remember; the tapes on which he threatened Grigorieva have been forgotten to time. His 2006 drunk driving arrest lives on a little bit more in infamy, occasionally being dredged up by comedians at award shows—though that, too, has not had a lasting effect on Gibson’s career.
Throughout award season, which blissfully has come to a close with Sunday’s Academy Awards, we’ve watched stars like Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn sing Gibson’s praises with only the most gentle mentions of his notoriously abusive behavior.
“I love Mel,” Garfield, star of Hacksaw Ridge, told E! “I have nothing but love for him and pride in him, not only as an artist and a filmmaker, but also as a man and as a good friend... I think it’s a good sign that the Academy has acknowledged his work. It’s utterly deserved, but it’s a really good sign that finally the healing he’s been doing internally and in his life and with the people in his life can finally be recognized on the outside as well. He’s not going anywhere. He’s been ready for this for awhile.”
The “healing” Garfield mentions likely refers to Gibson’s sobriety, but it’s not clear what he’s referring to. Gibson’s attitude regarding his 2006 arrest remains unapologetic. As he told Payback, Variety’s podcast, in October 2016:
“It was an unfortunate incident. I was loaded and angry and arrested. I was recorded illegally by an unscrupulous police officer who was never prosecuted for that crime. And then it was made public by him for profit, and by members of — we’ll call it the press. So, not fair. I guess as who I am, I’m not allowed to have a nervous breakdown, ever.”
“I’ve never discriminated against anyone or done anything that sort of supports that reputation. And for one episode in the back of a police car on eight double tequilas to sort of dictate all the work, life’s work and beliefs and everything else that I have and maintain for my life is really unfair.”
Gibson can cry victim all he wants, but, as the above audio recordings and transcripts prove, he’s absolutely guilty of discrimination, though perhaps not in the legal sense of the word. He’s freely used the word “nigger,” called his girlfriend a cunt, told her she should be raped, and physically assaulted her. Claiming that any bias the public has towards him is unfair is, quite simply, ridiculous, especially when you consider that he’s still wealthy, still successful, and still being embraced by the Hollywood elite. While it’s true that alcoholism is a vicious, personality-attacking disease, any assertion that the public has unfairly judged Gibson is a bold-faced manipulation of the facts.
In a surprising reversal of the beaming audience cut-aways to Gibson that we’ve seen over the past few months, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll are among the few who’ve had the balls to take aim at the director during this award season. Hosting this year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, Kroll remarked, “We like to think of these awards as the ones without Mel Gibson. People wondered how long it would take Hollywood to forgive someone for anti-semitic, racist hate speech. The answer? Eight years!”
And that barely touched on half of it.
The film industry, despite actors’ and directors’ continual claims that they’re the epicenter of liberal progress, is a deeply cynical and fucked up place where men (and women) like Gibson are allowed to thrive while coworkers like Garfield will call them brave. Gibson can sit with Rosalind Ross, his new girlfriend and mother of his ninth child, in the first two rows at the Academy Awards and host Jimmy Kimmel won’t make mention of his abusive past. A bigger to-do is made when a convicted attempted rapist who (low bar here) at least served time for his crimes is allowed into the Kodak Theater than is made about a known racist and abuser nominated for Best Director. Gibson’s only “time served” is the handful of years where he didn’t get to make as many movies as he wanted. Not to mention the alleged abusers who actually won their categories.
Perhaps Hollywood and movie-goers are willing to forgive Mel Gibson because most people have never actually listened to the tapes on which he lashes out at his ex. (Listening to them for the first time in years, I was shocked at how violent they were.) Or, more likely, the industry doesn’t care about what Gibson has said to a woman who’s been publicly dubbed as a whore and gold digger, because people don’t care about women all that much anyway, and because Gibson continues to make the studio money.
Mel Gibson is one of a long line of horrible people to be “forgiven” and embraced again by his chosen industry, but that doesn’t mean that you have to forget, sugar tits.