Kobe Bryant’s smooth segue from NBA superstar to Oscar-winning producer hit a bit of a bump Wednesday when an online campaign prompted his removal from a film-festival jury because of a 2003 rape allegation.
A Change.org petition had called for the move, telling organizers of the Animation Is Film Festival and its sponsors to drop the former Los Angeles Lakers player, who won an Academy Award last March for starring in and producing “Dear Basketball,” his love letter to the game.
“I was honored to have been originally invited by Animation is Film to serve on the 2018 Jury, and am disappointed to no longer serve in that capacity,” Bryant said in a statement to Variety, a sponsor of the festival that is being held this weekend in Los Angeles. “This decision further motivates me and my commitment to building a studio that focuses on diversity and inclusion in storytelling for the animation industry.”
The petition, posted by women and allies of the animation community, drew 140 of the 200 signatures it was seeking and stated that Bryant’s presence on the jury would set “a precedent of lenience for sexual criminals and further undermines the visibility and respect that victims of harassment and assault deserve. . . . This is an urgent time to say NO to toxic and violent behavior against women."
Eric Beckman, the CEO of festival organizer GKIDS, said the decision was reached to “keep our collective energies focused on the films, the participating filmmakers, and our festival attendees.”
At issue is an incident that occurred 15 years ago in which Bryant was charged with raping a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado, where he was to undergo knee surgery. He said he believed the sexual activity was consensual and the case was dropped when the accuser refused to testify. A lawsuit was settled out of court and Bryant admitted no guilt.
The incident was placed into the context of the #MeToo movement and allegations against Harvey Weinstein and others when Bryant (along with animator Glen Keane) took home an Oscar last winter. Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times pointed out the “moral confusion” of the academy in an essay that included Bryant, past best director winner Roman Polanski and Ryan Seacrest, who hosted his red carpet show after being accused the previous month of sexual misconduct by a former stylist. (An investigation by the E! network found “insufficient evidence” to support those allegations.) “Why are the sexual misdeeds of some men forgivable, while others are not?” Abcarian wondered.
During the award ceremony, Keane said the honor showed that “the impossible is possible” and then Bryant chose to mention athletes who are increasingly using their public platform to speak out against injustice. “Well, I don’t know if it’s possible — as basketball players, we’re really supposed to just shut up and dribble,” Bryant said to laughter, referring to Fox News' Laura Ingraham’s controversial comment, “but I’m glad we do a little bit more than that.”
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