Ian McKellen, the openly gay English actor best known for playing Magneto in the 2000-era X-Men films and Gandalf the wizard in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, has been in the news recently for two reasons (one good and one bad): the good involves Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf; the bad, the Ian McKellen sexual harassment comments he recently made.
So first, the good reason. McKellen said he’d like to play Gandalf in Amazon’s new Lord Of The Rings prequel series, currently in the planning stages — we’d love to see him do it, though they may choose a younger actor to help bring new viewers into the fandom.
As the bad reason, Ian McKellen recently blamed women for contributing to their own victimization in workplace sexual harassment and assault.
The Ian McKellen sexual harassment comments, explained
At The Oxford Union — a debating social club in Oxford, England — McKellen mentioned the recent wave of sexual misconduct allegations sweeping through American media and government. During this point in the discussion, he said:
I hope we’re going through a period that will help to eradicate it altogether. But from my own experience, when I was starting acting in the early Sixties, the director of the theatre I was working at showed me some photographs he got from women who were wanting jobs. . . some of them had at the bottom of their photograph ‘DRR’ — directors’ rights respected. In other words, if you give me a job, you can have sex with me.
That was commonplace from people who proposed that they should be a victim. Madness. People have taken advantage of that and encouraged it and it absolutely will not do.
Here’s video of the Ian McKellen sexual harassment comments:
Why the Ian McKellen sexual harassment comments fall short
While McKellen’s point of view sounds reasonable — trading sex for power isn’t a black-and-white issue where everyone’s either a saint or sinner — the feminist pop-culture website The Mary Sue nails down what’s troublesome about McKellen’s thinking here:
People can say “women signed up for it” but if getting ahead in a business means having to be sexually available for men, is that a choice? Especially when women who denied having sex for roles or giving out favors lost rolls?
The Mary Sue goes on to say that the fact that some women used sex to gain power does not “wash away the systematic issues of power and sexism in Hollywood and other industries.”