The text messages, however, suggest otherwise. “Yes, I spoke to our guys—i caused a bit of a stir … ,” one apparent message from Tsujihara to Kirk reads. Later: “I don’t usually call about casting about these types of roles—they’re going to get back to me … ” Kirk: “I hope it was ok.” Tsujihara: “Its fine, I just need to be careful.” Kirk: “I know how we can be carful and make this work.” Tsujihara: “Doesn’t look great—lets look for a movie role … ”
Their apparent exchanges make for an extremely specific story; however, in their rough contours, they are also extremely familiar. On Tuesday, BuzzFeed published an article announcing that Patrick Crowley, an editor at Billboard, had been fired from the magazine in response to allegations that he had used his position to sexually harass an up-and-coming artist. In this case, the alleged misconduct began when the musician Nik Thakkar got in touch with Crowley about the publication timing of an interview he’d done with Billboard; it ended with Crowley allegedly asking Thakkar to send nude pictures of himself to Crowley and another editor at the magazine. Thakkar, speaking with BuzzFeed, further claims that Crowley, who oversaw Billboard’s LGBT content, had orchestrated Thakkar’s removal from the November 2018 Billboard Pride playlist after Thakkar had refused Crowley’s request. (Crowley did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment.)
The allegations suggest the logic of the casting couch at play: money and ambition and art and sex, colliding. Status, leveraged. Another of the stories’ shared elements, though, is the fact that the alleged abuses of power played out not in person, but on digital platforms: The communications between Kirk and Tsujihara were conducted at least partially, the series of photographed phone screens obtained by THR suggest, via text message. And those between Thakkar and Crowley played out over Instagram direct message. Casting couch implies a lot, but one of those things is a specifically in-person form of exploitation: closed doors, physical coercion, abuses whose effects might radiate but whose actions are limited to, essentially, a single place and a single moment. The allegations about Tsujihara and Crowley, however, contradict that frame: Here are abuses of power that allegedly played out over time, in digital spaces, unconstrained.
Read: ‘Casting couch’: The origins of a pernicious Hollywood cliché
And here, too, is lengthy documentary evidence of the alleged misbehavior. The three-year relationship between Tsujihara and Kirk, THR’s Tatiana Siegel and Kim Masters write, “offers a window into a dark aspect of the entertainment industry, which regularly brings together attractive young women, eager if not desperate for a shot at stardom, and successful men who at times see these women as a perk of their wealth and power.” And as BuzzFeed’s Patrick Strudwick put it of the reported dialogue between the Billboard editor and the aspiring musician:
The detail of the conversation between Crowley and Thakkar, offers a rare and detailed insight into the techniques often deployed by those using power to gain sexual favours. Crowley used humour. He self-deprecated, in an attempt to provoke pity. He spoke in metaphor, he generalised and used emoji. All serve to disguise his intentions: softened, and couched in playfulness before the direct, unquestionable command: Send naked pictures.
Strudwick could say all that because, essentially, he had the receipts. He could report on the details of the allegations using, literally, text. So could Siegel and Masters, when they wrote the story of the relationship between Tsujihara and Kirk (a story that also involves the Australian billionaire James Packer and the director Brett Ratner—the latter of whom has himself been accused of sexual misconduct). It’s all there, in black and white and the cheery lime green of Apple’s text-message feature. There’s a frankness to it all that is rare to see in an industry that is so skilled at manufacturing illusions: There can be no “he-said, she-said” when all the saids are so neatly captured as text. When the casting couch goes digital, it leaves a trail.