I was inspired to write this essay after reading the article from the Atlantic, Bryan Singer’s Accusers Speak Out that involved a 12-month investigation into accusations of sexual assault by famed X-Men director, Bryan Singer, as well as businessmen involved with the scandalous and now defunct Digital Entertainment Network (DEN). Despite the controversy surrounding the Michael Egan allegations against Singer back in 2014 and the subsequent withdrawal of numerous lawsuits, investigative reporters rightly saw a story that some still want to keep buried. I decided to look into the issue myself because of questions I had on the subject matter, including what steps the powers-that-be are taking to mitigate against future assaults.
The allegations were nearly buried and forgotten after the eventual arrest of Egan for fraud. Then there is the documentary about child sexual abuse in Hollywood–An Open Secret, which included interviews with Egan–that has since been banished to the Tartarus of video distribution; It is available to screen on the Vimeo website without a paywall. That is not to imply that every movie that ends up on Vimeo goes there to die. In this case, however, we are talking about a film by an Oscar nominated documentary film-maker, Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil), so I cannot help but wonder what lead to its eventual banishment to a no man’s land of free video streaming. It is especially troubling when you compare it to another movie, Spotlight, albeit not a documentary, that came out in 2015 about the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. It seems Hollywood does have time for the topic, until the accusations are in their backyard.
If the goal of the powers-that-be in Hollywood was to keep their dirty secret out of the prying eyes of the public, they have failed. Besides the Atlantic article, since its posting on Vimeo the Guardian noted that “because of public interest” An Open Secret has “had more than 3 million viewings on various social media platforms since 12 October .” While the film has not been without controversy–including the producers’ feeling that Berg failed in her responsibility to promote the film, and accusations by two of the persons interviewed that some content was left out, not to mention the appearance of Egan in the film–what was left still had many compelling arguments that point to something being amiss in Tinseltown.
What is likely needed is another uprising like Parkland. The children of Hollywood will need to actively campaign for compliance with the Hollywood Child Protection Act in order to protect themselves.
It’s not surprising then that more and more former child actors are coming out with stories of abuse. The question is: What is Hollywood doing to protect the current generation of Hollywood kids? An investigative piece from Deadline recently looked at the application of a 2014 California law, the Hollywood Child Protection Act, which was meant to protect child actors by requiring people in Hollywood that work with minors to register for a permit and get fingerprinted by the FBI (many child sexual predators will change their name so they are able to continue working with children). What the publication found were a lot of excuses for non-compliance as well as evidence that the law is not actively enforced.
When you look at how negatively the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) responded to any mention of their organization in An Open Secret, you start to see the kinds of attitudes that contribute to keeping this problem under wraps and the Protection Act unenforceable. Why did they respond that way? Because Berg confronted one of their own on camera, Michael Harrah, a member of the SAG Young Performers Committee, and she got him to admit to committing sexual abuse against a minor when confronted over the phone by a former child actor Harrah mentored. After Harrah’s interview he almost immediately resigned from his post in SAG-AFTRA, but the organization wanted any mention of his ties to be removed from the film. They threatened to sue Berg and the film’s producers but later denied making any threats when confronted by the media. Berg refused to comply, though she did mention his resignation from SAG-AFTRA after his interview.
In the meantime, despite the numerous allegations against Singer that have been reignited, he is already set to begin work on the next Red Sonja film with Millennium Pictures, so for Hollywood life apparently goes on when you’re accused of sexually assaulting minors so long as you’re bringing in the money (Deadline recently announced that Red Sonja has been placed on hold amid new allegations against Singer). With so many turning a blind eye to the problem, what can be done to stop future abuses from happening?
What is likely needed is another uprising like Parkland. The children of Hollywood will need to actively campaign for compliance with the Hollywood Child Protection Act in order to protect themselves. That seems to be the only way we get things done in our post-#MeToo society. Even the way the media and the public interact with child stars needs to be addressed and changed. Either way, something more is needed if Hollywood ever hopes to get a handle on these abuses, assuming they actually want to. That not only means the possible blackballing of Singer in Hollywood, it also means holding the studios that empowered him accountable.
Whether or not they are willing to take responsibility for giving Singer the power to allegedly abuse again and again, studios like Phoenix Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, at the very least, should be at the forefront for a campaign demanding compliance with the Hollywood Child Protection Act. At the most, they should make a public declaration that they will no longer hire Singer for any future projects. Maybe then Hollywood could move on to address the numerous, practically cliché, stories about the infamous ‘casting couch’ where actors are assaulted or pressured into performing sexual favors for the gratification of some director or producer.
There’s no denying the glamour of Hollywood. There’s also no getting away from it. With American culture so addicted to television and movies, we are constantly bombarded with media showing beautiful people with pearly smiles on the red carpet wearing outfits and jewelry the everyday person could never hope to afford. When children talk about who their heroes are, we often hear answers like Lady Gaga, Denzel Washington or Scarlett Johansson. It almost seems like everyone wants to catch the ‘Fame’ bug. But like most contagions, once you get it, it festers underneath until it spoils and turns septic. It becomes a poison that slowly devours the body and soul of the person infected.
It is difficult not to feel that way myself after doing this research into the allegations of young men who traveled to Hollywood with stars in their eyes only to get devoured by monsters with McMansions until they were used up and spit out. That is especially true when those same monsters have been left to devour someone new with little to no punishment, as Berg pointed out at the end of An Open Secret.
As for Singer, I will never again be able to watch the movie Apt Pupil, without thinking about Victor Valdovinos’ accusation that the director fondled him between takes for the shower scene. I will never be able to watch an X-Men film without thinking about actor Alexander Burton (Pyro in the movie X-Men) along with other young men who claim “that the founders of DEN and some investors [Singer being one of them] offered them jobs, then sexually and physically assaulted them as well as coerced them to consume prescription drugs and controlled substances.” If I ever see Superman Returns again, it will be impossible not to think about the young man in London who claims he was plied with alcohol and raped by Singer, Gary Goddard (another infamous predator in Hollywood), and an unknown third person who worked for Goddard at an after party for the film.
I will need to pay extra attention to what movies I rent or buy so I am not complicit in the actions of alleged predators like Singer because that is where my responsibility lies as a consumer.