It’s been an … eventful … couple of days for Hollywood.
Two days ago, Sony TriStar shocked the entertainment world when it announced that, per the decision of director Ridley Scott, Kevin Spacey was being replaced as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World—with the scenes being reshot with Christopher Plummer. This followed a growing number of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and others by Spacey, and was all the more notable for coming just six weeks before the movie was scheduled to be released, a date that (at least for the time being) remains intact.
Then, yesterday, I Love You, Daddy, written, directed and starring comedian Louis C.K., was suddenly pulled by distributor The Orchard from its planned debut in New York City. That announcement cited a then-upcoming New York Times story that hit just hours later with stories of sexual misconduct by Louis C.K. related by five women. Then, on Friday, The Orchard pulled the movie from its release calendar entirely.
What Got Us Here
All of this comes, of course, in the wake of the ground-shaking allegations of rape, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct against industry powerhouse Harvey Weinstein of Miramax and The Weinstein Co. The stories involving Weinstein become more shocking with each passing day, up to and including reports that he allegedly hired former Mossad agents to gather information on journalists and actors that could be used to silence any exposure of his behavior.
Those allegations have opened up the floodgates of women—and some men—who for years, in some cases decades, have been silenced in fear of speaking up against the men who abused them. The resulting wave has taken down not only one Hollywood heavyweight after another but also ensnared an NPR executive and at least a couple of state lawmakers. At the same time as the Times was publishing its C.K. piece, reports emerged that a woman was accusing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual abuse when she was just 14 and he 32.
This is hardly the first time prominent entertainment figures have been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct. Even with those currently experiencing precipitous falls from power, the phrase “open secret” is often used as their behavior is usually widely known. Outside of whispers and rumors, there have been a number of instances in just the last year where allegations have had much more mixed results.
Nate Parker was accused of rape before he became a filmmaker but was acquitted. The resurfacing of those events was still enough to sink the box-office fortunes of The Birth of a Nation after it had racked up accolades at festivals. Casey Affleck was accused of sexual harassment, but that didn’t impact either the financial or critical success of Manchester by the Sea. There are countless other examples. In fact, many of the allegations now making waves were first reported by Gawker and other outlets years ago, to little effect.
So what’s different? A lot of factors. Among them: the Resistance. It’s hard not to think that the reception to these charges is different partly because of the view of the current occupant of the White House. That our sitting president was able to achieve the office even after admitting to sexual misconduct—and being accused of more by over a dozen other women—has energized those seeking to expose this kind of behavior and make it clear it is not acceptable. Others who consider themselves allies also seem to be more self-aware and unable to write those accusations off quite as easily.
For a week prior to the recasting announcement, TriStar had been saying that release plans for All The Money in the World remained unchanged, though an anticipated awards campaign was scrapped. At the moment it remains unclear how the recasting of Spacey’s role will be reflected in any new marketing materials for the movie. A trailer and poster have already been released that featured Spacey—or at least, a bust of his head in the image of Getty—prominently. Whatever mix of new footage and digital compositing is used to insert Plummer, it’s hard to imagine there being a lot of time for new assets to be created.
Earlier festival screenings of I Love You, Daddy had already been somewhat tension-filled, given that stories of Louis C.K.’s behavior have been circulating in comedic circles for years, with the accusing women generally brushed off. Complicating matters was the fact that the story itself involves an older film director, played by John Malkovich, beginning a relationship with the young daughter of Louis C.K.’s character, played by Chloe Grace Moretz. The first trailer made that storyline a clear selling point for the drama in the movie, but it was nearly unthinkable that any further marketing could have been done along those lines.
One also has to wonder what all this means for Wonder Wheel, the upcoming movie from Woody Allen. Allen has, of course, been hounded by allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct for decades. That’s seemingly never hurt his career, as audiences keep seeing his movies and talent keeps lining up to work with him, citing the opportunity as too good to pass up. Amazon Studios, which picked up the movie earlier this year and was planning to use it as its first solo film release—not involving a partnership with an existing distributor—has been hit by its own sexual harassment allegations that led to studio head Roy Price stepping down. It would be wise to reevaluate those plans with a more enlightened and sensitive eye.
Will There Be an Actual Change?
You have to believe—at least, I’d like to believe—that any movie studio or other media company is taking a fresh look at any complaints made by women that had previously been dismissed or put to the side. Not only can they get out in front of potentially damaging crisis situations, but they might be able to take those complaints more seriously and give them the attention they warranted at the time.
That’s the ideal. A world where women are believed and abusers punished.
However, you need look no further than this weekend’s new releases before you begin to wonder. That’s because Mel Gibson, ostracized to the point where many surmised his career was over just a decade ago because of an anti-Semitic rant caught on tape, is well into his image rehabilitation tour. After directing a big-budget prestige film last year—Hacksaw Ridge—he stars this week in the family comedy sequel Daddy’s Home 2, where he plays a lovable rogue of an alpha male.
If change is going to be long-lasting, meaning we aren’t all reading about Harvey Weinstein’s triumphant return to Oscar glory three years from now, it’s likely going to result from women keeping up the pressure and holding powerful men to account for inappropriate, illegal and immoral actions. It’s also going to come from the public not growing tired of such stories but continuing to be outraged and signaling its intent not to do business with the abusers again.
However, the onus is on Hollywood—on all businesses—to take reporting seriously and to really consider who they are getting into business with. Letting unsubstantiated rumors go on for decades unchecked is not only bad for the people involved, but it’s bad for business. And that’s what Hollywood—and all businesses—care about.