Olivia Munn TIFF

The Predator and the case of performative allyship

Contributed by
Dec 20, 2018, 4:21 PM EST (Updated)

Actress Olivia Munn is currently fighting a very public battle over her new film, The Predator, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival late last week. Munn, just one of two women billed in Shane Black’s latest installment in the sci-fi series, blew the whistle on the director after Black chose to cast his friend and convicted sex offender Steven Wilder Striegel in the film.

In 2010, Striegel pled guilty to charges of attempting to initiate a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl online, a fact Black failed to notify both 20th Century Fox and his cast about before inviting Striegel on set. Munn, who’s been open about her own history with sexual assault and harassment at the hands of powerful men in Hollywood, was the only actor to share a scene with Striegel in the film. When she discovered the details of the actor’s past, she notified executives at Fox that she wouldn’t feel comfortable promoting the movie with Striegel involved and asked that the scene be cut — a request Fox honored.

But it’s not Striegel’s background, or Fox’s failure to protect its actors and crew that’s concerning. Striegel committed a crime and paid for it, and we’re not here to entertain conversations about the redemption period of sexual offenders and when, if ever, they should be allowed to assimilate back into society, nor are we here to comment on the worrisome inability of a multimedia company to confidently administer background checks to individuals working on their projects. The film industry is an ass-backward maze of male entitlement and backdoor dealings made through a hazy fog of cigar smoke and pompous d*ck-swinging that no one can truly understand, but forgiveness and acceptance are personal decisions made by individuals — choices Munn was robbed off when Black employed Striegel without notifying the actress of his background.

It’s the lack of respect for Munn, from both the director of the film and a gaggle of her male co-stars, that, to put things bluntly, is morally nauseating.

Currently, Munn is in Toronto, promoting the film because of contractual obligations, and going on record with major outlets like Vanity Fair and The Hollywood Reporter over her perceived mistreatment. Munn has been candid about her interactions with her male co-stars, which include Boyd Holbrook, Keegan Michael Key, Sterling K. Brown, Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, Thomas Jane, and Jacob Tremblay.

Munn claims that once she discovered more details about Striegel’s background and went to Fox with her concerns, she reached out to the rest of the cast to warn them of the situation and ask that they draft their own statement in response — she didn’t want them to feel blindsided by the news like she was. None of the men spoke out before the news hit that the scene had been cut and Black issued a formal apology to the Los Angeles Times.

Even after going to the press, Munn says her co-stars and Black failed to reach out to her personally, giving the director a standing ovation following the film’s premiere, refusing to do interviews with her, and even walking out of interviews when the topic of Striegel’s casting was brought up. Of the cast, only the 12-year-old Tremblay could still be seen continually doing interviews with Munn following the controversy. 

It’s the kind of behind-the-scenes drama that feels both disappointing and tiresome considering the era we find ourselves in. This kind of thing has happened before, especially in genre. There was Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Sigourney Weaver in James Cameron’s Alien franchise, Megan Fox and Michael Bay, Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock, Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer, and the list goes on.

Male directors, particularly white male directors, are often allowed to behave badly, to make morally reprehensible decisions and disguise their deplorable antics under the veil of eccentricity and talent. Men who shout, abuse, harass, demean, and deceive in Hollywood are prolific, genius, auteurs. Their sins are excused in favor of the bottom dollar and a studio’s chance at an Oscar.

But now we’re living in the #MeToo, the #TimesUp era. Now, "witch hunts" are happening, men are being judged more harshly — too harshly, say some. Women are coming out of the woodwork to accuse the most beloved bros in Hollywood of terrible deeds. Men’s careers are in (false) jeopardy. Some women have even been accused of putting out fake tales of woe for an extra 15 minutes of fame.

We, as women, roll our eyes at this. We take it on the chin and move on with the hard work of trying to make every industry, not just Hollywood, a safe space for women to create, to grow, to pursue their dreams unencumbered by the roaming penis who feels he’s owed something because of his status, his clout, or his gender. And usually, when a woman is granted the opportunity to write, direct, or star in a film that wouldn’t have even been considered a decade ago, we feel we’ve won a kind of victory. When entire awards shows are dedicated to pointing out predatory behavior and “empowering” women, when pins are worn on the lapels of male “allies,” when interviewers choose to ask about issues instead of what designer an actress is wearing, that feels like enough. More than enough. It feels like progress.

And then Olivia Munn happens, or, more accurately, what has happened to Olivia Munn happens. Putting aside Black’s behavior for a second, the truly concerning bit in this ongoing saga is the actions of Munn’s co-stars, many of whom claim to be warriors for women’s equality. They’ve donned the pins, they’ve given the speeches, they’ve donated to the causes and worn the damn T-shirts. Why then is it so hard for one, just one of these men, these “allies” to swiftly join rank with their female co-star, to denounce something as blatantly wrong as a man’s decision to cast a sexual predator in a major motion picture without notifying anyone of that man’s past conduct?

Do men just possess an inability to stand up to other men? Are male actors just more concerned with staying in favor in Hollywood? Both are probably true. Even more probable, men are unfamiliar with the kind of moral integrity and commitment to truth that it takes to be a woman making a way in Hollywood. For Munn, calling out an asshole for acting like an asshole is par for the course. For her male costars, maybe it’s a more terrifying feat.

To be clear, both Key and Brown have issued statements, either through their reps or on Twitter, saying they supported Munn throughout the ordeal, though they chose to speak up only after the fact. It’s unclear whether they reached out to Munn personally following her time at TIFF, though for some I’m sure an apology thread on social media and a statement to the Times will be enough.

But is the damage already done? Munn has been frank about how detrimental this experience has been for her. She’s questioned whether she wants to continue with her acting career. Honestly, who can blame her? We should be currently enjoying the most progressive time in Hollywood’s history, according to the internet trolls. We should be thankful for the steps we’ve taken towards equality, fair pay, a safety guaranteed work environment. We’re also told that even though some of our most badass heroines on screen, the Munns and the Thurmans of the world, are being mistreated by men in power behind the camera, by their agents, their handlers, their f*cking peers, that we should be thankful women are leading genre at all. We’ve got Wonder Woman. We’ve got Captain Marvel. What more do you want?

You know what I want? I want an end to performative allyship. I want the men in Hollywood who lack the fortitude of character and the strength of will to stand up to their bosses, their directors, their friends, when they see them exhibiting problematic behavior towards any woman, to take their #TimesUp pins and shove them. I want to be clear who the cowards are, and who can be counted upon to help do the hard work, the brunt of which will still be managed by women. I want talented actresses to be given more opportunities to lead sci-fi and action and thrillers and horror movies instead of those same actresses being forced to reevaluate their entire careers because some dude f*cked up and a bunch of other dudes decided to back him up like they were 20-something college bros in a film fraternity, downing beer and slapping each other’s asses instead of the grown men with families and children of their own that they are. I want a 12-year-old boy to not be the shining standard of honor and integrity amongst a sea of 40-somethings.

And I want someone to treat Olivia Munn to a damn cocktail and some well-earned self-care after this whole debacle, courtesy of every woman who is just as done with this sh*t as I am.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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