A heated argument between John Oliver and Dustin Hoffman has broken out at a film panel, after the Last Week Tonight host questioned Hoffman about recent sexual harassment allegations made against him.
The quarrel occurred during a 45-minute Q&A session before the 20th anniversary screening of the political film Wag the Dog featuring Hoffman, Robert De Niro, producer Jane Rosenthal and director Barry Levinson.
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Halfway through the discussion in New York on Monday night (local time), panel host Oliver brought up the current climate in showbusiness and said he was going to "go around the room" and ask all panelists for their sentiments.
According to members of the audience, Hoffman "grew visibly uncomfortable" when Oliver raised allegations that the Oscar-winning actor grabbed Anna Graham Hunter's bum and used vulgar language around her on the set of 1985 TV film Death of a Salesman, while she was a 17-year-old production assistant.
The Washington Post's Steve Zeitchik tweeted that "all hell" broke loose and a testy back and forth ensued. Hoffman said to Oliver "you weren't there", to which the host replied "I'm happy I wasn't," according to Zeitchik.
John Oliver just went after Dustin Hoffman big time on sexual harassment at this Wag The Dog panel. Hoffman grew visibly uncomfortable. "You weren't there," he says to Oliver. "I'm happy I wasn't," Oliver replied.— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
Deadline reported that the tension lasted for "30 agonising minutes as the two proceed to have an awkward, at times anguished, back and forth centring on the actor's deeds and the appropriate response to them."
Over the course of the sparring, the actor accused Oliver of not keeping an "open mind" and "unquestionably believing accusers".
All hell has now broken loose on this Wag The Dog panel. The subject seemed over after seven minutes but Hoffman brought it up again, saying Oliver is not keeping an "open mind" and is unquestionably believing accusers, and a testy five minutes followed.— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
Last month, Hoffman released a statement apologising for making Hunter feel uncomfortable. "I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation," he said. "I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am."
During the panel discussion, however, Hoffman reportedly "denied knowing the woman" and claimed his apology was misconstrued.
But Oliver said he was "pissed off" by Hoffman's response that the events on set didn't reflect who he is as a person.
"It is reflective of who you were," said the HBO host. "You've given no evidence to show that it didn't happen. There was a period of time when you were creeping around women. It feels like a cop-out to say, 'Well, this isn't me.' Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?"'
Oliver cited Hoffman's response to an accuser that his behavior on set was "not reflective" of who Hoffman is. "It's that kind of statement that pisses me off," Oliver said. "It's 'not reflective of who I am.' But it IS reflective of who you were."— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
The recent revelations of sexual misconduct have ignited a national dialogue in America, with numerous allegations made against Hollywood heavyweights over the past two months.
Hunter's allegation in November was swiftly followed by a second woman, playwright Wendy Riss Gatsiounis, who claimed that Hoffman propositioned her during a pitch meeting in 1991 and left her "close to tears".
Hoffman fought Oliver throughout the night, accusing the host of inciting him. "You've made this incredible assumption about me, sir," said Hoffman. "You've put me on display here...That's not innocent until proven guilty."
The Graduate actor said the sexualised banter that existed in Hollywood decades ago was not meant in an offensive way, to which Oliver responded, "I don't love that answer either."
"It doesn't feel self-reflective in the way it seems the incident demands...I get no pleasure from this conversation. But you and I are not the victims here," Oliver said.
When Oliver quoted from Hunter's allegation, the actor reportedly asked Oliver, "Do you believe this stuff you're reading?" The British comedian said he did "because she would have no reason to lie."
The discussion drew divided responses from a vocal audience, some of whom had spent hundreds of dollars for tickets to the venue. "Move on!" one person shouted. Another woman called out, "Thank you for believing women!"
And now the _ audience _ is arguing volubly back and forth about whether Hoffman is upstanding and Oliver should be asking the questions. Not sure I've ever seen anything like it at a screening panel.— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
Rosenthal at one point interceded "as the only woman here on this panel", and attempted to turn the dialogue to larger issues like pay inequality and the lack of female representation in the higher echelons of the industry.
When Oliver refused to drop the line of discussion, Rosenthal fired back: "It wasn't produced by Weinstein Co. or Miramax, so you don't have a really big conversation. Kevin Spacey wasn't starring in it. Let's look at real sexual criminal predators."
Oliver just asked people to stop recording his argument with Hoffman on their phone. "That's what I hate about the Internet." But i mean, isn't that why he brought it up? To have a public conversation?— Steven Zeitchik (@ZeitchikWaPo) December 5, 2017
This photo was taken before #92Y panel discussion got v heated; John Oliver asked Dustin Hoffman about the sexual assault allegations against him... Hoffman denied knowing the woman. pic.twitter.com/xihbNt50fM— Laura Podesta (@LauraPodestaTV) December 5, 2017
“You’ve made this incredible assumption about me, sir.” Hoffman said to Oliver. Oliver says it’s something he had to bring it up before we watch the film #wagthedog— Laura Podesta (@LauraPodestaTV) December 5, 2017