British actor, screenwriter and director Noel Clarke has been accused of sexual misconduct by 20 different women, less than a month after receiving a BAFTA for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema.
The 45-year-old rose to fame in 2005 for playing the character of Mickey Smith in Doctor Who, before starring as roadman Sam Peele in his feature film Kidulthood, and its subsequent sequels Adulthood and Brotherhood.
Clarke has previously won the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2009, and the Laurence Olivier Award for Most Promising Performer in 2003.
In April 2021, the Guardian published allegations from 20 women, accusing Clarke of verbal abuse, sexual harassment and bullying. Amongst these accusations Clarke allegedly filmed a nude audition by actress Jahannah James without consent, and then showed it to his producers.
James has also accused Clarke of unsolicitedly exposing his genitals to her in the back of a limousine and then groping her in a lift.
Actor Adam Deacon, who played the character of Jay in Kidulthood, supported the accusations against Clarke in a statement.
He said, “I myself have been a victim of Noel Clarke for 15 years. My career was continually sabotaged, and the gaslighting became so severe that it lead to the complete breakdown of my mental health.”
In response to the aforementioned claims, BAFTA suspended his award pending further investigation. The following day, ITV announced that it was ‘no longer appropriate’ to broadcast the final episode of Viewpoint, in which Clarke starred. International distribution of the show was suspended.
Industry Entertainment declared they would no longer be representing Clarke and Sky immediately halted his involvement in any future productions.
Clarke said that he would be seeking professional help to “change for the better”, and denied “all accusations of sexual misconduct or criminal wrongdoing” bar one, with him admitting to commenting on the buttocks of an employee.
Once again, society finds itself in an awkward position, where it has to balance the increasing intolerance towards sexual assault and the fight against the culture of silence with the principle of due process and the presumption of innocence.
Make no mistake about it; sexual assault in all its forms is completely and utterly unacceptable. If it transpires that Clarke is in fact guilty of these accusations, then he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
BAFTA, Sky and other media companies were correct to suspend him. Due to the serious nature of the accusations (especially as a man), they would morally wrong to continue to employ a person with such serious allegations.
However, it is important to realise that at this moment in time, the allegations against Clarke are exactly that: allegations.
Being accused of something without due process to prove guilt should not be enough to change a person’s opinion on Clarke, or anybody for that matter. To be accused in and of itself should not imply guilt.
It should not be that simple to define a person’s future and reputation merely by accusations. Such a law or attitude would be unjust and would have the potential to be easily weaponised.
Whilst it’s important to recognise and acknowledge the climate we live in (regarding male/female politics and power dynamics), it would be wrong to write him off before legal proceedings have even begun.
Everybody is entitled to an opinion, and opinions will certainly be formed as time goes on and more evidence and legal proceedings take place.
Nevertheless, public opinion and trial via social media should not be enough to determine Clarke’s future. That’s for the courts to decide.
To believe either party without due process is to call the other party a liar; either Clarke is lying, or the women are. There is no grey area.
It seems that society cannot have it both ways when deciding between automatic belief of women and due process. There is no middle ground, or at least none that wider society is willing to accept.
We now have to wait and see what becomes of this case, and have faith that justice is served. The presumption of innocence must be preserved.
‘Believe women.’ Two simple words, yet they cause so much protest among those who are desperate to downplay how prevalent sexual assault and abuse is.
To concede that sexual assault is, indeed, a horrific stain on our society, we must commit to believing those who brave enough to speak up and tell the truth, in spite of the backlash they receive.
I’m not here to deny that false allegations of sexual assault happen. However, the frequency is incomparable to the rate of actual sexual assault and rape allegations that pass without conviction. It’s strange that whenever a well-loved – or even well-hated – celebrity comes under righteous attack due to their past indiscretions, so many are quick to defend them, without personal knowledge of their character.
And it goes further than the incomprehensible willingness to defend these star-studded idols from individuals. Society itself shrinks from acknowledging these allegations until they are unsurmountable, as they expose the normalisation of violence against women in our society. Yet, we are forced to place our trust in institutions such as the police force, the government, and the criminal justice system.
We expect the media to hold these institutions to account, so that we can go about our daily lives in fictitious peace. However, when brave victims, and those in the media with the backbone to advocate for them, actually do speak up, they are met with animosity and incredulity.
Consider this. You are a woman (or any other gender), and you pluck up the courage to contact a journalist to share your story. You’re struggling with the desperate fear that your own industry will condemn you, yet you are physically sick at the thought of allowing someone who abused you to calmly continue their career, accepting accolade after accolade, as you battle with depression, anxiety, and guilt, day after day. You don’t provide your real name. You are just driven by the desire to ensure that others do not suffer what you have suffered.
So, no. We cannot wait, in transfixed silence, for the months-long ‘due process’ of the justice system to determine Clarke’s guilt before we start acting for the victims. We cannot allow those who have heroically come forward to be censured and bullied by the tabloids. We cannot allow young, impressionable members of our society to be influenced by the public response of disbelief or contradiction.
Even disgust, an emotion that many may initially feel, is inadequate. It all too quickly becomes overshadowed with the weary lack of surprise that so many of us feel, when we hear these stories ‘yet again’. Wasting our energy picking holes in Clarke’s accusers’ accounts detracts from the energy we should all be spending to ensure that structures are put in place for victims to report sexual assault. The justice system, as it is today, serves no one – women, men or non-binary. Instead of letting it take control, as it always does, we should be designing mechanisms for the future; those that prevent sexual assault from getting so far that a story like this becomes ‘relevant’ to our media, and provides us with the permission to discuss it.
We don’t need permission, and perpetrators don’t need fame. Victims need justice.