Why House of Cards is Better Off Without Kevin Spacey

Pop Culture

Why House of Cards is Better Off Without Kevin Spacey

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Netflix today has replaced the television in our homes. But even as recently as five years ago, that wasn’t the case. Netflix wasn’t so precious to us – we thought of it as an online video library featuring a smattering of shows and films easily available on Star Movies and HBO. It needed something special, something that would make us shell out 500 bucks on a subscription instead of a Subway sandwich. And that something special was the show which airs its final season today, House of Cards.

House of Cards was Netflix’s first award-winning original show, and all those Emmys and Golden Globes made the streaming service irresistible.

But despite the show being key to the Netflix success story, it feels like Media Rights Capital, the studio which produces the show, would just rather get the final season over and done with. Once considered the most prestigious show on air, House of Cards has been a source of bad press since last October, when its lead actor Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual harassment by the actor Anthony Rapp. He claimed Spacey made sexual advances at him in 1986, when he was just 14 years old. Spacey said he did not remember the incident, but “apologised” for it anyway by coming out as homosexual.

It’s been a year since the Spacey fiasco, which unfolded at the peak of Hollywood’s #MeToo movement. Rapp’s allegations opened the floodgates, as more men began to come forward accusing Spacey of predatory behaviour, from unwanted groping, to actions bordering on sexual assault. Within weeks, Spacey had gone from being one of the most enigmatic and respected actors of his generation, to being named in the same disgusted breath as fellow predator Harvey Weinstein.

Still, there is something that sets Spacey apart from the other powerful Hollywood personalities who were exposed as predators – something evident in how House of Cards was willing to begin the march toward its denouement with its lead actor markedly absent. Despite the lack of any legal action against him, Spacey has become persona non grata in a way other big men accused of harassment have managed to avoid.

House of Cards, a show that literally revolved around him, binned the episodes starring him that had been filmed for the final season and dropped him from the cast.

The ability of powerful predators to wriggle out from the consequences of their actions has become such a dishearteningly common trend, a term has been coined to describe their preferred modus operandi: “shame leave”. The most egregious example is Louis CK, who faced a backlash similar to Spacey’s in having his shows and appearances cancelled by organisers. But CK is now back on the circuit, performing at venues he used to before the allegations despite the presence of protestors. Casey Affleck and Aziz Ansari have also somehow managed to sweep their sins under the carpet despite them being exposed for the world to see. Allegations of harassment against Andy Rubin, the father of Android, were found to be credible by Google’s internal committee, but when he was let go in 2014, he was still offered $90 million as severance pay. And even Harvey Weinstein – having spent time in an Arizona rehab centre – is gearing up to defend his name in court.

Going by these cases, it really feels like being outed for their transgressions is just a small speed bump for these men.

Not so with Kevin Spacey. Once he was exposed, he was in no time replaced by Christopher Plummer in the Ridley Scott film All the Money in the World. It didn’t stop there. House of Cards, a show that literally revolved around him, binned the episodes starring him that had been filmed for the final season and dropped him from the cast. In August this year, a film starring Spacey released in theatres, and only made $126 dollars. Spacey’s problematic, predatory chickens have come home to roost, and he has only himself to blame.

The last season of House of Cards sees Spacey replaced in the lead role by his co-star, Robin Wright. It’s hopefully a sign of things to come; that in the future, predators will be held similarly accountable, will find that their actions have serious consequences. No actor, director, media moghul, or CEO is indispensable. Men in positions of power who have been knowingly exploiting it do not deserve second chances.   

Just because we respect their art, we should no longer let artists walk away scot-free.