RZA’s story about the Azealia Banks-Russell Crowe fight hasn’t changed. Maybe the rest of us have.

RZA’s story about the Azealia Banks-Russell Crowe fight hasn’t changed. Maybe the rest of us have.
Azealia Banks performing in concert at Irving Plaza on Monday, May 11, 2015, in New York. Robert Altman/AP
Azealia Banks performing in concert at Irving Plaza on Monday, May 11, 2015, in New York. Robert Altman/AP
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Several media outlets on Wednesday latched onto the apparent revelation that RZA — the Wu-Tang Clan producer — once lied about actor Russell Crowe spitting on rapper Azealia Banks during a confrontation in October 2016.

Banks has alleged for the past year that Crowe choked her, spat on her and called her a “nigger” while throwing her out of a party he was hosting in Beverly Hills. Male guests who were present — namely RZA, who had invited Banks to the party, and comedian Jim Jefferies — took Crowe’s side, with RZA claiming that Banks was being “loud and obnoxious,” “insulting half the room” and eventually “[threatened] to cut a girl in the face with a glass, then actually grabs a glass and physically attacks for no logical reason.”

“I was there, [Banks] was out of control,” Jefferies tweeted after the incident. “Russell did absolutely nothing wrong ... [He] is completely innocent.”

Azealia Banks performing in concert at Irving Plaza on Monday, May 11, 2015, in New York.
Azealia Banks performing in concert at Irving Plaza on Monday, May 11, 2015, in New York. Robert Altman/AP

On Monday, RZA appeared on The Breakfast Club radio show to promote his new album, where host Charlamagne tha God asked if Crowe had indeed “put hands on” Banks or spat on her.

“Look,” RZA replied. “He spit at her. I saw that. I mean, he didn’t spit on her, he’s like [makes spitting noise to the side], like, ‘That’s what you are.’ You know what I mean?”

The Root published a story about RZA’s statement two days later. The headline read, “RZA finally admits Russell Crowe did spit on Azealia Banks at party.” Other publications followed suit, suggesting that RZA was finally telling the truth after months of dishonesty. “RZA admits Russell Crowe spat at Azealia Banks during 2016 confrontation,” wrote the Fader. “Rapper RZA is now telling a different story about the night Azealia Banks and Russell Crow reportedly got into an altercation,” read the opening sentence from the New York Daily News’ story.

In reality, this is inaccurate. RZA’s story is not new, nor has it changed in the past year. He admitted to TMZ back on Oct. 23, 2016, that Crowe spat at Banks while trying to expel her from the Beverly Hills Hotel room. And while we’re no closer to knowing in full what happened that night — security cameras apparently failed to capture the exchange — it’s worth asking why the spitting detail is provoking such indignation today. One answer seems to lie in an intensifying debate over men’s abuse of women — and specifically, men’s complicity in siding with other men who behave badly.

Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

In recent weeks, this conversation has centered on Harvey Weinstein. The disgraced former-Miramax and Weinstein Company executive was outed as an alleged serial sexual harasser and abuser in a pair of stories at the New York Times and the New Yorker. The revelations — which Hollywood insiders say were a poorly kept industry secret — have prompted countless women to go public with abuse stories of their own.

Social media campaigns like #MeToo have demonstrated the endemic nature of the problem. Estimates posit that one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. An even higher proportion likely face sexual harassment or endure other forms of sexual misconduct, it stands to reason.

In the case of Weinstein and others, alleged abuse was possible because so many enablers — many of them male — looked the other way. For more than 20 years, Weinstein built a system around himself that allowed him to allegedly lure young women into hotel rooms, pressure them to massage him or watch him shower or masturbate and, in some cases, allegedly subject them to non-consensual sexual contact, then punish them with diminished job opportunities or negative press campaigns, all without facing any consequences.

Anecdotes shared by other women not connected to Weinstein show a similar pattern of men declining to intervene in similar circumstances. “[The] majority of men stay silent about the role they’ve played in supporting a culture of rape,” my colleague Samhita Mukhopadhyay wrote earlier this week.

The story of RZA, Azealia Banks and Russell Crowe doesn’t fit seamlessly into this narrative, for a number of reasons. But it does hinge on similar allegations that a man physically and verbally abused a woman, while other men stood by, watched and then publicly sided with the man who did it.

Race complicates the issue even further. “Did you check [Crowe] at that point though?” Charlamagne asked RZA on Monday. “That’s a white dude spitting at a black woman. You had to check him.”

RZA performs at the MADE Fashion Festival “Opening Ceremony” show in June.
RZA performs at the MADE Fashion Festival “Opening Ceremony” show in June. Willy Sanjuan/AP

“He apologized to me,” RZA responded, before moving on, seeming to think that was a sufficient answer.

Crowe has a history of violent outbursts. In 2005, he reportedly beat a hotel clerk with a phone when he couldn’t reach his wife. To allege that he was similarly brutal with Banks — well beyond a preventative or self-defense capacity — is not outrageous. Nor is it hard to imagine why RZA may have sided with Crowe over a black woman. In recent weeks, op-eds written by black women have circulated criticizing black men for failing to support them in such disputes.

What’s harder to square is the public’s amnesia regarding this story. It was known more than a year ago that Banks’ account of the spitting incident had been corroborated. RZA had conceded the spitting detail. Perhaps outrage was stymied due to Banks’ unpopularity. The rapper had developed a reputation for erratic behavior and bizarre attacks against other entertainers on social media. It was easy to dismiss her at the time. The Crowe allegations may have looked to observers like crying wolf — or worse, an unremarkable eventuality in the life of a wild woman many had grown tired of hearing about.

But perhaps rushing to Banks’ defense today — in light of “new” knowledge that we’ve had for more than a year — is a byproduct of a shifting debate. As a critical mass of women comes forward with accounts of their own abuse at the hands of men, it’s possible that tolerance for RZA’s kind of behavior is a fraction of what it was last year. This is a lot to hope for. And maybe it’s totally off base. But at the very least, public indignation is being directed toward the issue. What comes next is anyone’s guess. But Americans are long overdue to find out.