On Wednesday, The Atlantic published the results of a long investigation into several allegations of sexual misconduct against Bryan Singer, the director of, among other films, The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Superman Returns, and, most recently, the Golden Globe–winning and Oscar-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody. The report, the result of 12 months’ worth of investigative work from the writers Alex French and Maximillian Potter, contains accusations of rape and coercive sex with men and underaged boys. It contains testimony from a psychologist about the traumas that can be inflicted on a person who is sexually exploited as a child. It contains stories of lives derailed, of young people being made to understand that their interests do not much matter, when those interests are set against the soaring demands of a man who has proved himself so capable of making money for, and through, the movie industry.
In Hollywood, stories related to #MeToo often double as stories related to business: money and morality, colliding with wrenching effects. One of the questions that hovered over French and Potter’s reporting concerned that most basic matter of moneymaking: employment itself. Would the evidence against Singer—multiple men coming forward, many of them using their own names and images, to allege abuse—affect the director’s ability to keep his current job? Would the movie Singer had recently signed on to direct, Red Sonja, retain him at its helm?
Shortly after The Atlantic published its story, that last question got an answer: Singer, it seems, will be keeping his job. Millennium Films, the company producing Red Sonja, offered this terse statement to The Hollywood Reporter via its CEO, Avi Lerner: “I continue to be in development for Red Sonja and Bryan Singer continues to be attached.” Lerner added:
The over $800 million Bohemian Rhapsody has grossed, making it the highest grossing drama in film history, is testament to his remarkable vision and acumen. I know the difference between agenda driven fake news and reality, and I am very comfortable with this decision. In America people are innocent until proven otherwise.
The statement is noteworthy for several reasons, the most immediate being that it suggests, outside of a lawsuit that is still pending against him (in late 2017, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman claimed that Singer had raped him when he was 17) that Singer will for now face no meaningful repercussions for the many allegations that have been leveled against him.
But Lerner’s defense of his director is even more insidious at its edges: Lerner is suggesting, with his emphasis on the gross of Bohemian Rhapsody, that there is a causal connection between a filmmaker’s “vision and acumen”—and relatedly, his ability to bring massive profits to the companies that make use of those talents—and the filmmaker’s moral behavior. It’s an assumption that lingers in Hollywood, in spite of the layered revelations of #MeToo: It was there when Harvey Weinstein defended Roman Polanski; when a CBS board member, after a series of allegations against Leslie Moonves were made public, framed Moonves’s step away from the company as a mere retirement; when corporations decide that the best course of action, given strong evidence of a profitable abuser among them, is merely a stern talking-to.
When money enters the moral calculus, the combination allows for a pernicious form of magical thinking. When money is allowed to serve as a kind of character witness—the over $800 million Bohemian Rhapsody has grossed—the allowance summons one of the shiniest lies that American culture has devised: That there is a meaningful connection between money and moral attainment. That the ability to accumulate wealth—for oneself, or on behalf of a corporation—is its own form of exoneration.
What Lerner’s defense of Singer does not mention is that Millennium Films, the company, is facing its own allegations of misconduct. A former executive at Millennium (the outfit also produced The Expendables, London Has Fallen, and 2008’s Rambo) filed a harassment lawsuit against it in 2017, alleging that the company fostered a culture that was demeaning toward its female employees and actors. “The suit alleges,” Variety notes, “that women were called ‘whores,’ ‘c—suckers,’ and ‘mistresses,’ and actresses were routinely called ‘too fat,’ ‘too ugly,’ and ‘too old.’” Avi Lerner is listed as a defendant. (“It’s all lies,” Lerner told Deadline in response to the suit. “It’s all a joke.”)
Now, unsurprisingly, the accused is defending the accused. The weary circularities are setting in. (Singer has hired the crisis-PR agent Howard Bragman. Bragman is also representing Red Sonja.) Here is part of the statement Singer issued in reaction to The Atlantic’s report:
It’s sad that The Atlantic would stoop to this low standard of journalistic integrity. Again, I am forced to reiterate that this story rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention. And it is no surprise that, with Bohemian Rhapsody being an award-winning hit, this homophobic smear piece has been conveniently timed to take advantage of its success.
Here is part of the statement GLAAD offered in response:
In light of the latest allegations against director Bryan Singer, GLAAD has made the difficult decision to remove Bohemian Rhapsody from contention for a GLAAD Media Award in the Outstanding Film—Wide Release category this year. This week’s story in The Atlantic documenting unspeakable harms endured by young men and teenage boys brought to light a reality that cannot be ignored or even tacitly rewarded.
Singer’s response to The Atlantic story wrongfully used “homophobia” to deflect from sexual assault allegations and GLAAD urges the media and the industry at large to not gloss over the fact that survivors of sexual assault should be put first.
“Gloss over” is correct. It’s another old story: the welfare of the alleged victims, treated as a complication facing the broader goods of Art and Culture and Vision. Those alleged victims, dismissed on the grounds that they are simply seeking money. Avi Lerner, himself accused of misconduct, defending his moneymaking director on the grounds that the allegations against him are mere fake news.
The gambit is all too familiar, but it is, on top of everything else, an example of the self-ratifying effects of power. Bohemian Rhapsody, as far as we know, will contend for its Oscar. Red Sonja, as far as we know, will go on under the “vision and acumen” of a director who has been accused of rape. Red Sonja, it’s worth noting, is a film about a survivor of sexual assault.
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