This week, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Bryan Singer, director of several X-Men movies, was in talks to helm a live-action adaptation of Red Sonja. Millennium, an independent film production company, was reported to be viewing the hire as an opportunity to rehabilitate Singer's image less than a year after he was fired from the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody following repeated instances of him not turning up to set and causing drama.
Of course, that wasn't the issue most people were talking about at the time.
Bryan Singer's reputation is one of the most sordid open secrets in an industry saturated by them. Shortly after his firing, news broke that Singer was facing a lawsuit from a man alleging he had been raped by the director in 2003 when he was only 17 years old. The lawyer representing this man, Jeff Herman, also represented Michael Egan, the man who accused Singer, among other Hollywood figures, of sexual assault in 2014. That case was eventually withdrawn and Herman issued an apology to the accused, but it's clear the case was not finished. Indeed, the history of Singer and such allegations is as long as his career in Hollywood. In 1997, the parents of young actor Devin St. Albin, then 14, sued the producers of Singer's film Apt Pupil for allegedly filming their son and other minors naked for a shower scene without permission. That suit was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. In a lawsuit filed by an anonymous plaintiff from the U.K. in 2014, a John Doe accused Singer and producer Gary Goddard of sexually assaulting him when he was a minor. Singer was eventually dropped from that case, while Goddard was further accused of molesting and raping actor Anthony Edwards for many years, starting when he was only 12. Goddard has denied the allegations.
Amy Berg's documentary An Open Secret, which delves into the culture of child abuse in Hollywood, references Singer multiple times. Actor Noah Galvin famously called out Singer for his parties in an interview with Vulture, claiming he liked "to invite little boys over to his pool and diddle them in the f*cking dark of night." While he was not repeating anything new, Galvin quickly apologized to Singer for any offense caused. It is not difficult to find talk of Singer’s alleged indiscretions. They are as widely dispersed as comments on Harvey Weinstein by people both inside and apart from the entertainment industry.
All of this, like Weinstein, is an open secret. It was an open secret when Singer was brought back into Fox to direct more X-Men movies. It was an open secret when the University of Southern California renamed a wing of its film studies department after Singer. It was an open secret long before the lawsuits. It was an open secret when he was fired from Bohemian Rhapsody. It is an open secret now as Millennium views a major directorial opportunity as career salvation for a man who has shown no contrition or understanding of our current social and political climate.
Hollywood has known Bryan Singer for a long time. They know him now. If he is welcomed back into the fold less than a year after the #MeToo movement became impossible to ignore, then they will have failed that movement. There are no two ways about it. It is disheartening that we have to keep reminding doubters that the #MeToo movement is rooted not in the calling out of individual abusers but in the desperate need for a radical change in industry norms. Men like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Les Moonves were allowed to thrive for decades because it was completely acceptable for others to look away and pretend the elephant in the room did not exist. Clear abuses of power and exploitation of the powerless were written off as mundane realities of working in Hollywood, with victims smeared as mere visitors to the so-called casting couch.
The #MeToo movement, which emerged into the forefront following both the New York Times and New Yorker’s reporting on allegations against Weinstein, signaled something many in the industry thought would never happen: a mental shift that saw believing victims, for once, become the societal default mode. Victims, primarily women, were listened to and not immediately assumed to be vindictive liars hoping to get rich and famously be falsely accusing innocent men of assault. Talk of real change spread far and wide, the #TimesUp initiative promised financial backing for those looking to go through the legal system to deal with workplace harassment, and studios began to make changes regarding diversity within their confines. Men like Weinstein were denounced, shamed and forced to deal with real repercussions. It seemed that Hollywood was ready to admit that it was wrong and could no longer go back to the way things were.
The quiet welcome back for Bryan Singer is not the first sign that the entertainment industry, and indeed the world at large, is trying to bypass the changes made in a post-#MeToo world. Either they have assumed that audiences will ignore their culpability – in the case of Singer, the response has been near-universally negative – or they simply do not care. Hiring Singer is seen as worth the bad PR, probably because his films have made so much money in the past. Profit, once again, comes before people.
Singer’s alleged scandals aren’t the only thing clouding his attachment to Red Sonja. Remember, this is a man who was fired from his last film because he kept going missing from set. This is nothing new either. Superman Returns famously went over schedule and over budget (allegedly over $90m in basic production costs). Shooting of X-Men 2 was delayed because Singer got into a "personal argument" with executive producer Tom DeSanto, which caused a rift with his cast. This is a man with a history of causing on-set drama and costing his bosses money. Depressingly, that’s usually more of a reason for bad men to get fired from high-profile jobs than harassment, yet it’s now being positioned as another oopsie for Singer to recover from. It seems that some are determined to prove true the age-old adage that white men can get away with absolutely everything, certainly far more than any woman or person of color.
Red Sonja is a highly popular character, one who was given a critically acclaimed revival by celebrated comic book writer Gail Simone. At a time when female-led superhero films are getting more attention and industry clout than ever – from Wonder Woman to Captain Marvel to Black Widow – there’s certainly a place in the market for Red Sonja. So, why is a project of such potential being seen as a stepping stone for an unprofessional man with multiple sexual assault and harassment allegations to his name? Does the project mean so little to Millennium? Is a woman’s story so worthless? Is all that talk of elevating the stories of the marginalized and amplifying their voices just shop talk until business as usual returns?
Hollywood is failing #MeToo. We’ve seen that in the way CBS dragged their feet over dealing with Les Moonves and in the endless voices insisting the movement has “gone too far” or isn’t fair to men. There is no room for the status quo, not anymore, if there ever was. Bryan Singer doesn’t get to waltz back into Hollywood with a multi-million dollar opportunity and pretend everything is okay. He and those around him don’t live in a world where silence prevails anymore.