Trigger warning: this article contains descriptions of domestic violence and assault.
Work hard, dance in your downtime, treat others like you would like to be treated. And leave the assholes out in the cold.
So goes ‘The Gospel of Jessica’ in the Hollywood Reporter puff piece about actress Jessica Chastain, and their assessment of how she’s combating gender inequality in Hollywood by fighting to get Octavia Spencer equal pay in films.
The next paragraph states that Chastain avoided working with Harvey Weinstein, citing his reputation as the reason for not making a film with him (although, her films had been bought by him).
In 2020, Chastain’s latest film Ava is scheduled to arrive on screens around the world. Directed by her The Help director, Tate Taylor, Ava is written by Matthew Newton. It marks the first producing credit for Chastain’s newly minted Freckle Films production company, which has also got Michael Showalter’s The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Simon Kinberg’s* 355 on the slate.
When Chastain co-launched Freckle Films, she did so with news outlets like Forbes stating that ‘Jessica Chastain Just Launched an All-Female Production Company’, as if the fact that it is run by women would mean the issue of inequality had been solved. Yet, with ex-Miramax/The Weinstein Company production executive, Kelly Carmichael, on board, and three films under their belt with three male directors, a script by an abuser, it’s clear that equality is the last thing on the mind of Chastain and co., leading to the question one has to ask: who this is actually benefitting?
In August 2010, Matthew Newton allegedly “punched [then girlfriend Rachael] Taylor in the face before being sedated by ambulance officers”. Rachael Taylor suffered a concussion and a sprained jaw after this attack, leading to her to take out an AVO against Newton. When writing for the Woman’s Day, Rachael Taylor stated:
‘I don’t think any woman thinks that they will become an addition to these statistics. I didn’t. I thought I was exempt. I thought I was the exception to the rule. I was not. I am a survivor of domestic violence.’Rachael Taylor
After Asia Argento tweeted a list of 82 women (including herself) who had been sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, Jessica Chastain replied:
So, Jessica Chastain, do you believe Rachael Taylor and Brooke Satchwell then?
With Newton’s alleged abuse that Brooke Satchwell was submitted to during their relationship which ended in 2006, where Newton was charged with four offences including common assault, intimidation and assault occasioning actual bodily harm, one has to ask, does Jessica Chastain believe her, or Rachael Taylor? Does she believe the 66 year old taxi driver that Newton allegedly punched in the head? Or, maybe she’s unaware of the moments of extreme behaviour in America?
That Hollywood Reporter piece goes on about how ‘Chastain’s eyes brim when she talks about gender and racial inequality…’, which sounds great on paper, and sure does do an excellent job of making her seem like the perfect advocate, but that does not answer why she felt the need to both sign on with Matthew Newton to make his Hollywood career a cemented reality after his critically acclaimed film Who We Are Now in 2017 (he has stated in the past that ‘he will never return to Australia’), and it also does not answer the question as to why she kept on making his film after the old news re-emerged about his domestic violence actions.
And while people can be rehabilitated, I’m not certain that Matthew Newton has shown that he has earned the right to have a successful career in the public spotlight, especially one under the care of a two time Oscar nominee. While Newton has highly publicised mental health struggles, that has often appeared to be an excuse for his actions by the media, it is unfair and unkind to his victims to suggest that the violence pushed on them were the acts of an unwell person. His charges were dropped, and Newton merely ended up with a negative public persona, and that seemed to be that.
‘Why do rich people not have to spend any time in jail?’ Chastain asks in that Hollywood Reporter piece, essentially answering her own question by pointing out the power of money. Newton’s families success has bought him a new life in America, a spell in the expensive Betty Ford clinic, and with an eager mindset from Newton to lead a Hollywood life, he’s seemingly been able to create a new one where the reach of his history apparently can’t get to him. At least that’s the impression that Chastain’s involvement with his script says.
Now, Chastain has worked with women directors more than most actors in Hollywood, with films by Niki Caro, Liv Ullman, Kathryn Bigelow, and Susanna White, all making up entries on her filmography. But her vocal activism and feminism carries no weight and rings no echo when applied to her own production company. If Chastain wants fans to believe that she has the victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, rape, and the abuse of men, in her mind, and if she believes these victims, then that belief means nothing when working with Matthew Newton.
Especially when she says in an interview with Mark Fennell, ‘it’s very important to me that I practice what I preach, and that my actions follow my words.’ Well, in the case of Eve/Ava, those words mean nothing.
I want to stress, I don’t particularly like publishing these kinds of articles on The Curb. It’s almost tabloid media-esque writing, but when a figure as monumental and influential as Jessica Chastain actively works with a perpetrator of domestic violence, I couldn’t just sit here and let it pass without comment. The #MeToo movement is an international one, and within Australia, the victims of assault and violence are often silenced by defamation laws.
But a Google search of Matthew Newton’s name would be enough for Chastain to know his history, and to recognise that for Brand Chastain, it would be an easy way to tarnish its image. It appears that the ‘Gospel of Jessica’ doesn’t apply to its icon, and neither does the fight for equality.
To call Chastain a hypocrite feels too slight, after all, she’s already had every publication in Hollywood adorn her with the equality crown, so isn’t that enough? Well, no, actions have consequences, and in a Hollywood where there are still less and less women directors on films, and still less and less women crew on films, and even less diversity on screen, employing men to fill the directors chair for her production company, and using a domestic violence perpetrators script, well, Jessica Chastain suddenly feels like a less than great actress to be supporting right now.
As Glenn Dunks perfectly stated when this whole debate arose in 2018:
Maybe after @jes_chastain has made her movie with Matthew Newton, she can make a movie with Brooke Satchwell and Rachael Taylor, the women he was charged with assaulting, battering and stalking. Or hire the 66-year-old taxi driver he bashed as a set driver.— Glenn Dunks (@glenndunks) August 4, 2018
So much for leaving the assholes out in the cold.
*I don’t want to mention Kinberg’s financial bomb that was his debut feature, as I don’t want to make a false equivalency between box office failure and abusers, except that men continue to fail upwards in the era of equality, but it’s necessary to highlight it because Chastain failed to choose women directors for genre films that they’re routinely denied the chance to direct. That’s a discussion for a different time, but needless to say, the epidemic of men directing women written scripts about women appears to be going nowhere.