I first learned about the allegations of Bill Cosby being a rapist a few years ago when People magazine published an article about the lawsuit Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, filed against him due to sexual assault. The article states that 13 female witnesses came forward and claimed that they had experienced similar situations to the one that Constand went through. This was back in 2006, almost a decade ago. Although the allegations quieted down for a bit after the lawsuit, I always remembered it. As someone who grew up watching The Cosby Show, I didn’t want to believe that the beloved family man with the pudding pops and sweaters was capable of committing such a horrible act. However, part of me believed that these women were telling the truth and that America’s favorite sitcom dad may be hiding a darker side that had not been previously discussed.
Last year, I took a Television Studies class in which we discussed the power of stardom and how people tend to associate actors’ characters with their public persona. In this class, we discussed Bill Cosby’s role as a father figure in the media and the positive portrayal of men of color that he provided in American media. I was surprised that the allegations of assault were not mentioned once in class. In a final exam, we were required to write an essay about the way that Bill Cosby is presented in the media and I took this opportunity to discuss the allegations of assault. While my professor wrote a note on my exam saying that she was aware of the allegations of sexual assault, I couldn’t help but wonder why such an important topic was never discussed.
I believe the reason why the topic of Bill Cosby being a rapist was kept so quiet until now is because he brought a positive portrayal of men and families of color in the media. With his creation of The Cosby Show, which was based on his own stand-up, he provided one of the first portrayals of an upper-middle class family of color in American television. The show was deemed relatable by families of a variety of racial backgrounds, which helped to change the way that people of color were presented in the media. During a time in which is it so challenging to be a person of color, it is difficult to accept that one of the few positive male icons of color in the media has committed such a horrible crime.
In November, the topic of Cosby sexually assaulting various women came up after comedian Hannibal Buress mentioned in his stand up that Cosby acts smug and superior towards other comedians, yet tries to hide the fact that he raped multiple women. He told his audience, ” I’ve done this bit on stage and people think I’m making it up…. when you leave here, google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.'”Having a black comedian point out that Bill Cosby is not as innocent as the media portrayed him to be changed the way that people viewed the assaults. When the video of Hannibal Buress’ stand up went viral, many people who were unaware of the assault became outraged and began to dig into the older news sources that discussed the lawsuit.
This month, Larry Wilmore, who is also a black comedian, used his new show, The Nightly Show, as platform to discuss how the victims of Cosby’s assaults have been mistreated by the media. Much like Buress, he pointed out that Bill Cosby should be held accountable for his assaults and deserves all the backlash he has received during the past few months. While the rape survivors who have been ignored and pushed aside by the media feel appreciative of the fact that their assaults are being brought to light again and many people are showing support, they still feel like there is a double standard in how the media treats the topic of sexual assault.
When Barbara Bowman, one of Cosby’s victims, shared her detailed account of the assault on The Washington Post, she noted:
Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest.”
She had been telling her story for over 10 years in multiple interviews, yet had been ignored by the media. This goes to show that even if Hannibal Buress is a man of color, he still has more power in the media than any of Cosby’s victims. Although it is a very positive and admirable thing to see Buress speaking out about the assault and noting that it should not be ignored due to the fear of tarnishing the portrayal of men of color in the media, the rape survivors should have been listened to from the start instead of being silenced and ignored.
Now that the assaults have been discussed in the media throughout the past two months, more of Cosby’s victims feel comfortable sharing their experiences and detailed accounts of what happened to them. These are not women who want to jump the bandwagon in order to gain fame; these are women with established careers who have carried the burden of not being listened to and dealt with having to see their attacker be praised in the media for far too long.
For the first time in years, celebrities are speaking out in support of the victims and not allowing Bill Cosby to get away with his innocent and fatherly reputation in the media. However, many people of color feel as if they are losing the one person who helped pave the way for them in Hollywood and are disappointed with the lack of negativity that surrounds other men in Hollywood who have committed sexual assault. Kenya Barris, the creator of Black-ish, recently called out Judd Apatow on Twitter for obsessively writing about Bill Cosby being a rapist.
Although it is true that there’s plenty of other men in Hollywood who have committed crimes similar to Cosby’s—such as Terry Richardson, Woody Allen, Sean Penn, and Charlie Sheen—we should not stop discussing Cosby’s assaults thoroughly. He does not get a pass for being a beloved icon, nor should any powerful man in Hollywood.