The troubled star who fled Australia appears to have remade himself as a feminist director in the United States. Is it a cynical career strategy, or a genuine redemption tale?
Briony Kidd

3 Aug 2018 - 8:00 PM  UPDATED 3 Aug 2018 - 8:39 PM

“I love writing for women, I love working with two fabulous, intelligent, wonderful actresses and I’m not just saying that because they’re here—they are, and I really enjoy actually telling female stories.” 

These are quotes from Matthew Newton’s interview with Deadline last year, while he was doing press for his fourth feature film Who We Are Now, a drama starring Julianne Nicholson, Emma Roberts and Zachary Quinto. 

And he wasn’t finished yet. 

“I’m a male writer-director, but we have a 95 percent female crew. I tried to write great roles for women in this movie, and I do think that it’s a really important thing to do. It’s a long time coming.” 

Still not finished. 

“If I’m going to write and direct something, I’m going to want to surround myself with as many strong, intelligent women as I can.” 

I recall thinking at the time that if he’s so desperate to support women he should let one of them be in charge, so they tell their own “female story” their way. And get paid the same fee as he would for the privilege. 

Oh what’s that, you wrote some juicy roles for actresses? Cool. But you know what, female screenwriters do it all the time. So do competent male screenwriters. It’s not actually that big of a deal. 

Then again, perhaps Newton wasn’t as concerned about working with women as he was about working at all. 

The cynic in me says he’d hit upon a neat strategy to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his career hiatus from 2011 to around 2014, having faced domestic abuse charges in Australia against two long-term partners. (In 2007 Newton pleaded guilty to common assault of Brooke Satchwell but his conviction was overturned  by the Judge, who was swayed by "significant" evidence from Newton's psychiatrist that he was unlikely to re offend. Then in 2011 Newton was charged with violating an AVO taken out against him by Rachael Taylor, who alleged a history of abuse. He was later arrested for assaulting a taxi driver and for other episodes in the USA, including attacking a hotel clerk. Newton's lawyers cited mental health issues for all of his assault accusations and he avoided convictions for all four incidents.)

He wouldn’t be the first public figure to attempt such a manoeuvre and he won’t be the last. What’s more surprising is how clumsily the gambit was executed. And how easily it seemed to work. 

"The cynic in me says he’d hit upon a neat strategy to rehabilitate his image in the wake of his career hiatus"

Neither the Deadline reporter nor any other journalist questioned Newton’s newfound feminist zeal in relation to his history of abusive behaviour towards women. Or questioned it at all at that stage (although IndieWire later ran a piece about his reception at SXSW). 

Back in Australia, “Film Twitter” was less credulous.

In this country, as much as Newton may be regarded as a talent, his image is forever tarnished by Satchwell and Taylor’s recollections. Both have since spoken of their subsequent trauma. Newton maintains his violence was a by-product of a struggle with mental illness and addiction. But, whatever the circumstances, you can’t go around assaulting women – particularly women known and beloved by millions across the country – and expect to still be considered a “good bloke” or a sensitive filmmaker.

Or maybe you can, if you move to the other side of the world. 

Newton has struck career gold with his latest project, a character-driven action movie, Eve, anointed by superstar and all-around nice person Jessica Chastain. She’ll play the lead and her production company will co-produce. As Variety quoted today, she and producing partner Kelly Carmichael are enthused: “Matthew is wonderfully adept at crafting complex and relatable characters.  We’ve been fans of his work and are so thrilled to be partnering with him and Voltage on Eve.” 

In the era of #TimesUp, #NowAustralia and #metoo, powerful players in the entertainment industry are no longer able to bury their past abuses, and it’s a good thing. They’re no long able to threaten or blackmail to get what they want without a thought to the possibility that they might one day be brought to account. That’s a very good thing. 

What’s not yet clear is how a Hollywood redemption arc might play out. As James Gunn’s recent firing by Disney shows, apologising is often not enough, even when the exposed transgressions are not criminal in nature. 

"If he’s for real my advice is simple: quit using women."

But who gets to decide what’s right and wrong? Why was Kevin Spacey immediately removed from upcoming projects when allegations of abuse came out last year, while the year before director Victor Salva was handed the reins to a $3.6 million movie, even though in 1988 he was convicted and jailed for raping a child actor on one of his productions? 

It’s a whole new world and the rules are anything but clear. But one thing’s clear to me: there can be no forgiveness without remorse. 

While it may not be reasonable to suggest that Matthew Newton should be shunned forever for his past behaviour or banned from pursuing a career in his chosen field, should the road back really be this short? 

If Newton were truly ashamed of his behaviour towards Satchwell and Taylor, how could he appear at a festival and spout all that rubbish about how much he loves and respects women? Doesn’t it insult his ex-partners to do so?  It insults my intelligence.

If he’s for real my advice is simple: quit using women. Stand up by yourself on the stage of public opinion. Not with Julianne Nicholson by your side. Not under the auspice of Jessica Chastain. Just leave them out of your whole dog and pony show.

Redemption is a solo journey.

Briony Kidd is an award-winning writer, director and producer of film and theatre, and is the director/programmer of the Stranger With My Face International Film Festival, which has a particular focus on female directors working in the horror genre and promotes discussion of genre and gender.    

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