Please Stop Running That Photo of Alec Baldwin After His Horrific On-Set Accident
We don't need to leer at the actor moments after he accidentally shot and killed someone to understand his guilt and grief
Since the news broke last evening of a horrific on-set accident in which Alec Baldwin discharged a prop gun that mistakenly contained a live round while filming his new movie Rust, accidentally killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, there’s a photo that’s been circulating online and splashed across front pages of the aftermath. In it, Baldwin stands at the side of the road doubled over, looking like he’s either about to vomit or perhaps trying to steady himself after just having done so, very clearly overwhelmed by the grief, shock and guilt of unintentionally ending someone’s life. In another snap, he’s seen looking frantic while holding a cell phone up to his ear, presumably seeking help or comfort and wondering — as anyone who just accidentally killed someone would — what the hell he’s supposed to do.
The photojournalists on the scene who captured these upsetting images no doubt had a job to do, but the editors who chose to run them and the people on social media who leer at them and share them should know better. It’s unnecessary and, frankly, gross to gawk at a (presumably) innocent person’s visceral reaction to an unimaginable mistake. (It’s here that we should note that the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office put out a statement that the investigation “remains open and active,” but no charges have been filed, and by all early accounts it appears that this was a horrible accident rather than anything more nefarious.) Baldwin’s celebrity is the only reason those photos have any inherent news value; when a non-famous person accidentally strikes and kills someone with their car, for example, we would never dream of running a photo of them weeping on the side of the road over what they’ve done if they weren’t at fault or charged with any sort of foul play.
To be clear, we don’t have all the details yet, and it’s highly possible that someone will be deemed negligent and held accountable for Hutchins’ death. (How does a live round wind up in a prop gun? And beyond that, why, in an age where special effects and sound can be added in post-production, do we ever need to have actors firing weapons — whether they’re loaded with blanks, which can still be dangerous, or not — on a set?) But Baldwin was presumably not the person responsible for inspecting the prop gun and making sure it was safe; most productions that involve the use of a firearm have armorers and stunt coordinators to handle such things.
You don’t have to like Alec Baldwin (as an actor, or even as a person) to feel absolutely awful for him in this situation. He will undoubtedly live with an unimaginable guilt over this incident for the rest of his life. As Michael Massee, the actor who fired the gun that accidentally killed Brandon Lee while filming The Crow in 1993, said in 2005 while explaining his subsequent long sabbatical from acting, “I don’t think you ever get over something like that.” We already know that Baldwin’s traumatized and guilt-ridden over this; why do we need to see sensational images of him reeling from the worst moment of his life to grasp that?
Beyond the fact that these photos feel like a disrespectful violation of Baldwin’s privacy, however, there’s also the fact that they fully center the tragedy around him. Yes, he pulled the trigger, but instead of focusing solely on him, we should be mourning the loss of Hutchins and remembering her talent. Instead of zeroing in on a distraught Baldwin, we should be displaying Hutchins’s photo and telling her story. If it had been an unknown actor or member of the crew who mistakenly fired the gun that killed her instead of Baldwin, would we even be hearing about this, or would she just become another anonymous victim of poor safety standards at work? Instead of dwelling on Baldwin’s unimaginable pain, let’s make sure we remember the pain of Hutchins’s family and friends and do our best to keep her memory alive, by revisiting her work and fighting to make sure a tragedy like this never happens on a film set again.
Update: On Friday afternoon, Baldwin put out his first public statement about the tragedy, writing, “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
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