As Hollywood continues to react and adapt to the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and the many other abuse allegations churned up in its wake), Amazon has become a revealing example of how the strategy of pursuing big names to buy instant credibility in the industry can backfire. The studio’s two Allen movies (Café Society and Wonder Wheel) have grossed a combined $12.5 million at the domestic box office, and the TV show the director did for Amazon (Crisis in Six Scenes, which cost $80 million) debuted to negative reviews. Beyond that, Amazon is apparently on the hook for three more Allen films after A Rainy Day in New York because of the deal Price struck, according to The Hollywood Reporter. With collaborators continuing to denounce the director, Amazon may end up having to buy Allen out of his contract.
Price’s pursuit of Allen—as streaming services were gaining a foothold in the film and TV industries—showed how much things can stay the same in Hollywood, even when they’re supposedly radically evolving. When Amazon began its relationship with Allen in 2015 and ordered his series Crisis in Six Scenes, the director had already weathered newly resurfaced allegations of child molestation from his daughter Dylan Farrow. That negative attention fully boiled over two and a half years later, as actors involved with his recent projects began openly disavowing him. (Allen, for his part, has long denied Farrow’s claims and has never been charged.)
Allen’s power in the film industry wasn’t connected to financial success (his movies do better overseas but rarely make their budgets back in America). Price sought him for his clout: He could attract top actors, was often a part of the Oscar conversation, and simply had the kind of brand name most directors could only dream of. Now, Amazon is facing the consequences of tying its fortunes to someone who had a tarnished personal history and relatively weak box-office appeal to begin with.
The studio’s difficult current situation points to how companies looking to “disrupt” the film industry often end up doing little more than propping up its hoariest institutions. Amazon and Netflix made waves at festivals like Sundance and Toronto in the last two years by making large bids on buzzy movies. But that’s a strategy that has persisted in Hollywood for decades, and it’s one that increasingly doesn’t seem worth the effort for the deep-pocketed studios, which can instead fund their own projects. Neither Amazon nor Netflix made any purchases at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and both are looking to concentrate more on in-house programming.
If it does buy its way out of the Allen deal, Amazon will then have to decide what to do with A Rainy Day in New York, which may get a minimal theatrical release because of contractual obligations, but no promotion. In the few years since Amazon started collaborating with the director, the industry at large has started to sour on working with artists accused of sexual misconduct, no matter how well-burnished their professional reputations. (Consider, variously, the controversy that surrounded the actor and director Nate Parker, Roger Ailes’s resignation from Fox News, and Kevin Spacey being fired from All the Money in the World and House of Cards.)