The news of Naya Rivera’s disappearance broke and greeted many with a shock this morning. After an innocent lake day with her son, the actress is now missing and presumed to be dead. A passerby found the four-year-old alone on their rented pontoon boat, Rivera gone.
Being so young, her son is unfortunately an unreliable witness, as he was napping at the time of discovery. He alleges that he could get back on the boat after swimming, but his mother could not. Due to this statement and her lack of a life vest, many assume Rivera has ultimately drowned. In a statement given to US Weekly, authorities said, “It is believed that Naya and her son were swimming in the lake near the boat and as they were getting back into the boat, her son made it into the boat and Naya went underwater and did not resurface.”
The search for Naya Rivera will continue this morning at Lake Piru. The lake will be closed to the public while search operations continue. Dive teams from throughout the region will be assisting us through mutual aid. @VCAirUnit @Cal_OES @fillmoresheriff pic.twitter.com/q6LsHd8xaT
— Ventura Co. Sheriff (@VENTURASHERIFF) July 9, 2020
Outrage broke out after local police called off the initial search last night, aiming to continue in the morning. Many perceived the decision as a lack of care or concern for the star’s state of peril. And soon after the next search began, it changed from a rescue to a recovery mission. In doing so, authorities have abandoned all hope of a safe recovery for Rivera.
Plenty of people have shared their concerns and prayers for Rivera, ranging from fans to former co-stars. But many have also rehashed the star’s problematic past.
Back in 2017, the actress was arrested after her ex-husband, Ryan Dorsey, claimed she physically assaulted him. Though Dorsey dropped the charges, many still view Rivera as an abuser. Some users claimed they couldn’t forgive, much less mourn for Rivera, even after she disappeared. This raises the question: can we still empathize with someone in the midst of tragedy, even if they’ve done wrong? Should we?
Some actions are not forgivable, socially or morally, and abuse is one of the said actions. Of course, we should not ignore Rivera’s allegations, anyone can agree on that. But when someone is missing — possibly at the bottom of a lake — is it really the time to recirculate them?
A similar situation arose following Kobe Bryant’s death. In a period of mourning, many began rehashing his sexual assault allegations. While they were also unacceptable and a part of who Bryant was, it felt inappropriate to bombard his mourning family. It gave people an excuse not to mourn or feel empathy for him or his death.
Separating People From Their Actions
You don’t have to like or condone someone’s actions to mourn their death. No one is asking the public to canonize Rivera or polish her actions. In fact, we probably shouldn’t. But there’s a difference between idolizing someone and giving them basic human respect. She is possibly in the time of her death and people are still doubting whether she deserves to live.
There’s an ongoing debate: can we separate problematic people, notably celebrities, from their creations? Let me just state that I usually say no, we cannot. Listening to Chris Brown’s music directly gives him money, even if you don’t support him as an abuser. But what if the artist is dead, though?
I still say no, you cannot separate them from their art. XXXTENTACION’s songs can’t exist separately from his abuse and cruel allegations against women. But as a person, can XXXTENTACION exist separately from his actions? Or rather, did he deserve to be gunned down? The answer is, of course, no. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to be celebrated, but his death shouldn’t be either.
The separation of art vs. artist debate does not apply to people deserving to live. Feeling no empathy for a problematic celebrity is not the same as refusing to listen to their music. Refusing to feel sad for Rivera or her family isn’t about supporting or forgiving her actions. It’s about sympathizing with fellow humans’ trauma and death.
A child might have witnessed their mother die, and people are debating whether it’s sad or not. What happened to Naya Rivera, a thirty-three-year-old mother, is undoubtedly tragic, regardless of her past. While she shouldn’t be deemed angelic, she shouldn’t be canceled in her possible death.
Featured image via Naya Rivera on Instagram