Bill Cosby is a name that has always sparked up a lot of debate and that has garnered media attention when thirty years ago he starred in and produced a show that revolutionized how the world of television perceived African-American people.
Born on this day, on July 12, 1937, Cosby is an American stand-up comedian, actor, musician, and author. Before The Cosby show, there were very few positive portrayals of the African American community on television, with a majority of roles representing them as thugs, criminals or just present to be at the butt of another racist joke. The show earned him a definitive place in the history books for being the first black actor to star in an American television drama and he also received three Emmy awards for the show. The show ranked as the number 1 TV show from 1985-1990 and drastically helped change the idea of what an African-American family should look like.
-The cast of The Cosby Show-
However, that’s not all Bill Cosby is well-known for. Almost two decades ago, Bill Cosby was accused of having sexually assaulted a number of young girls, most of them minors. Since the mid-1960s when he was first allegedly convicted of doing so, more than 60 women have come up, all of which claim that they had been either drugged, raped and left violated by the veteran actor, with a few even claiming sexual battery and emotional abuse. Most of these assaults fell outside the American statutes of limitations for Cosby to have been convicted; however one case stands out and has painstakingly stood the test of time. The case of Andrea Constand which was first taken to court in 2005 was reopened recently in June 2017 where although there was enough previous evidence to incriminate the actor, judge and jury ruled it as a mistrial. (The trial is set to reopen, November'17). In November 2015, eight related civil lawsuits were made active against Cosby, all of which he has since successfully evaded.
-Cosby on trial in 2017-
In his 2005 testimony, Cosby admitted to having engaged in acts of “casual sex” with lots of young women and even testified in court that these sexual encounters involved the use of an illegal drug and sedative called Quaaludes, although he never accepted allegations of rape. So how is it that even though all the evidence points to the obvious conclusion with the perpetrator even having admitted to his crimes, no action was taken to provide any justice to the victims?
-The cover of The New York Magazine, 2015, featuring cosby's victims-
In other words, how did America’s favourite dad manage to get away with rape?
The answer however, is not as simple as its question. It involves a series of unfortunate and deeply rooted social structures present in America when America’s favourite dad was on a sexual assault rampage. It has never been easy for a woman to come out with her tale of harassment, especially one of rape and that too against a powerful and celebrated actor. The recent case Amber Heard filed against ex-husband Johnny Depp is a testament to the fact that whenever a woman speaks up, the world will either brand her as a gold digging attention whore or will completely ignore and marginalize her. Which is exactly what happened to the 50 something women who stood against Cosby when their bravery to speak up was met with suspicion and they were all silenced one way or another.
Another greatly contributing factor to Cosby getting home free was his charming and saint-like on-screen persona. He started a movement of airing positive portrayals for the African-American community when in the public eye; he took on the good-guy persona that would serve him well for decades to come. Now millions of kids grew up viewing him in the role of a moral educator, a kind father and as an individual who sympathized with hard on luck inner city children. So although the evidence against him has been astounding, it may be hard to let go of a childhood hero for many, which is why a lot of his fan following remain loyal to him. Although, these allegations have caused a lot of companies and agencies to withdraw support, in the end, the affluent man has yet again manipulated the masses and evaded jail time.
-Cosby's widely popular kids show, Fat Albert-
So how should Bill Cosby, now 80, be remembered in the years to come? Even after 50 odd years of spreading internalized misogyny, tormenting women and getting away with it, one should not be surprised if he comes out as a tainted hero, the victim of a horrible smear campaign set out to destroy his “legacy” and not as the sexual predator that he is. This is not a new phenomenon in a country that speaks of equality and justice but where judges file cases in the favour of rapists because they are “promising athletes.”
The situation over here is no different, regrettably, it is even worse in a lot of ways. The universal question that still remains however is when will a woman’s account of violence be proof enough for us to believe and bring her justice without her becoming yet another statistic?