This week the New York Times broke the news that Asia Argento, an Italian actress prominent in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in Hollywood, has herself been accused by a man who says she sexually assaulted him five years ago, when he was 17. Now, reporter Elisabetta Povoledo has written a sympathetic article about Argento for Wednesday’s edition: “Italy, Already Wary of Unorthodox Star And #MeToo, Pounces on Actor’s Claim.”
“Pounces” is a well-known liberal media tic (along with “seize”) that signals that someone (often a conservative) is talking about a story they don’t wish to talk about, like Trump mentioning the murder of Mollie Tibbetts by an illegal immigrant.
The story’s text box lamented the possibility that #MeToo may apply to victimized men as well as women: “‘This will be used as an excuse to blame all women,’ one said.”
Even as she emerged as one of the leading figures in the #MeToo movement -- raised fist and all -- the Italian actress Asia Argento was never a media favorite in Italy’s unbendingly patriarchal society.
She was for the most part portrayed neither sympathetically nor heroically, but rather as a disingenuous climber well versed in her country’s often transactional relationship between sex, power and the pursuit of ambition.
Now, with reports that Ms. Argento quietly arranged to pay $380,000 to Jimmy Bennett, an actor who said she had sexually assaulted him when he was 17, she has gone from being the imperfect spokeswoman of a movement already having difficulty gaining traction in Italy to one who may have damaged the cause irreparably, at least in her own country.
This week, Ms. Argento was the target of a broad and savage public pillorying on the front pages of virtually every newspaper in the country. The headlines were merciless. “Asia Minor” was one; “Et tu, Asia,” another; and, naturally, “Asia Weinstein.”
It might have made no difference that on Tuesday Ms. Argento released a statement denying that she’d had sexual relations with Mr. Bennett.
Ms. Argento also said that her boyfriend -- the chef, television personality and author Anthony Bourdain, who committed suicide in June -- had helped “Bennett economically, so that he would no longer intrude in our lives.”
Soon after, Mr. Bennett’s lawyer said that Ms. Argento’s denial was false.
Povoledo rounded up some enemies of women’s progress, such as a “stridently conservative” newspaper.
But Ms. Argento had never warmed Italian hearts, in part a reflection of the country’s abiding resistance to the advances the #MeToo movement has opened for women in some other nations.
The stridently conservative and deliberately provocative Italian newspaper Libero, for instance, had followed her accusations against Mr. Weinstein with an article that suggested, “First they give it away, then they whine and pretend to regret it.”
In chronicling Ms. Argento’s troubles on Tuesday, Italian newspapers came up with supposed outrages from the past. There was the time in 2009 when she and hundreds of others signed a petition supporting Roman Polanski, who had been arrested in Switzerland on an outstanding warrant for an underage sex case. And there was the 2007 film by Abel Ferrara in which she kissed a Rottweiler.
Then there was the overt smugness of some commentators, as if Ms. Argento’s presumed fall from grace nullified the entirety of the #MeToo movement.
“There’s a desire in today’s Italy for public lynching, not just Asia, but any scapegoats,” said Francesca Koch, the president of the International Women’s House in Rome. She was referring to the mudslinging and accusations that have followed the collapse of a bridge in Genoa last week that left at least 43 dead.
The way Ms. Argento has been humiliated in the press recalled the attacks of defense lawyers in rape trials “slurring the reputation of the victims,” she said.
The Times’ iconoclastic staff writer Bari Weiss has a different take on Argento, warning that “Outspoken feminists will lose credibility if they ignore this story or try to explain it away with clichés, however true, about how hurt people hurt people.”