Where will the LSAs draw the line when it comes to ‘freedom’ to nominate people accused of abuse?

Defending their nomination of Feroze Khan with a flimsy excuse is akin to saying they side with people accused of abuse.
24 Nov, 2022

In the past two months, we’ve seen some big moves from celebrities when it comes to standing up for victims of domestic abuse. We’ve seen social media callouts, people dropping dramas and lengthy conversations about abuse. And now we’re also seeing the Lux Style Awards (LSAs) nominating someone who has been accused of abuse for an award.

On Monday, the LSAs announced their new list of nominees and among them was Feroze Khan up for the Best TV Actor (male) award. If you’ll remember, the actor has been accused of abuse and infidelity by his former wife Aliza Sultan. Khan has denied what he called were “baseless, malicious and untruthful” accusations and has said that he would take legal action against the perpetrator spreading them.

The comment section of the LSA’s explanatory post was filled with people who were mad that Khan had been nominated for one of Pakistan’s biggest award shows. But one of the biggest forms of protest came from filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy who announced that she will be returning the Lux Lifetime Achievement Award she was given in 2012. Her words were — “Lux is a beauty brand that sells soaps to women yet it has chosen to allow the nomination of a man known to have violently abused his ex-wife”.

Soon after Obaid-Chinoy’s statement, LSAs issued a statement of its own that leaves one with more questions than answers. “All shortlisted nominations for the Viewer’s Choice Category of the LSA 2022 are a result of exclusive viewer voting without any intervention by the Awards. As part of our third party, independent and transparent voting process which is audited end to end by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LSA cannot participate in short-listing, vetting, or excluding any submissions or nominations,” it read.

One of the biggest questions in many a mind is — where will the line be drawn? If tomorrow, someone with a criminal record submits their work, will LSA organisers and their parent company have zero say in it, as their statement appears to indicate? Why is ‘obscenity and inappropriate language’ the only thing they seem to stand against? Is abuse (or accusations of abuse) a smaller problem than obscenity? Are there no checks and balances on who is nominated at all?

Could it be that the organisers are afraid of public backlash and negativity? Is that more fearsome than the idea of aligning yourself with someone accused of abuse? Is it a good idea to giving the impression that perhaps you do not care to stand with the victims of abuse?

As Obaid-Chinoy pointed out in her statement, Unilever global stands against domestic abuse. In fact, it says that it wants to end the silence on domestic violence. “Domestic abuse thrives in secrecy. Creating an environment where people felt able to disclose their experience without stigma was a powerful lesson that was brought to light by the #MeToo movement,” reads a statement by the company. How exactly does the LSAs’ approach then align with Unilever global’s policy?

It’s not as if a precedent hasn’t been set abroad. Slapping Chris Rock landed actor Will Smith a 10-year ban on attending the Oscars. In 2017, Harvey Weinstein was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a month after allegations of sexual abuse against him surfaced. In its statement on his expulsion that came well before he was eventually convicted, the Academy said, “We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of willfull ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behaviour and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.”

If the LSAs need examples from Pakistan, they need look no further than Iqra Aziz, who withdrew from an upcoming project with Khan in a show of support for victims of abuse. In fact, she plainly said that was why she was withdrawing from the project — there was no ambiguity at all.

If the LSAs want to err on the side of caution, as many brands often do, they could have chosen to exclude Khan for as long as the court case against him proceeds.

It takes courage to come forward and tell the world that you have been abused in a society that backs men and demands ‘evidence’ in situations where there often none is available. How does one prove verbal violence and emotional abuse? Regardless, in this case, lawyers have submitted evidence of physical violence in court in the form of medical and police reports.

We hope the LSA organisers understand that by allowing this nomination, they may be signalling that they do not side with people who have come forward with their stories of abuse — that there are no repercussions and that a person can still be nominated by one of the biggest award shows in Pakistan and could possibly be awarded too — all the while being accused of beating his wife.

No one is asking the LSAs to infringe upon viewers’ ‘freedom and diversity of audience views’, but those accused of abuse shouldn’t have been listed for voting in the first place.

We have some advice for the LSAs. Be more like Iqra Aziz. Be more like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Be better.