Bryan Singer and the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Problem
This week, director Bryan Singer released a statement through his Instagram account in which he tried to pre-empt an upcoming piece by Esquire magazine. In it, Singer decried an investigation into his life and the numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have surrounded his career for decades. He called Esquire’s investigation ‘a reckless disregard for the truth’ preying on ‘today’s climate where people’s careers are being harmed by mere accusations’, and attacked the timing of the piece to coincide with the release of his new film, Bohemian Rhapsody. The Queen biopic is set for release this month and has already been plagued in controversy after Singer was fired from the project for not turning up on set and for allegedly fighting with its star, Rami Malek. Due to rules by the DGA, Singer will receive the full director’s credit for the film while his replacement, Dexter Fletcher, will not be credited for his work.
Bohemian Rhapsody is a long-awaited movie for many fans of Queen and Freddie Mercury, not to mention a much-anticipated addition to awards season for us pop culture prognosticators who have had Rami Malek pencilled in as a Best Actor contender since his casting announcement. My family doesn’t get as excited for films as I do but this is one they’ve been eagerly looking out for since they discovered its existence. I still haven’t decided if I’ll see it, for obvious reasons. The old chestnut of the ‘art versus the artist’ conundrum is just another way of life by now, especially a year on from the Harvey Weinstein revelations.
We make a lot of choices when we put down our hard-earned cash at the cinema or download an album. Being a conscious consumer feels like a full-time job sometimes but it’s become an increasing necessity for some, one almost as required as separating art from artist. Yet so often it feels like an impossible uphill climb. How do you make a stand against Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling’s continued support of Johnny Depp when you know those Fantastic Beasts movies are guaranteed to make hundreds of millions of dollars? How do you call out the hypocrisies of Aziz Ansari using progressive rhetoric to build his brand, then decrying it as ‘going too far’ once his own bad actions are called out, when that’s the in thing in both comedy and cultural discourse? How do you remind the world that rape culture is a bad thing when the election of a self-confessed ‘pussy grabber’ essentially deems it a legitimate way of life?
To put it simply: How do you fight back when the bad guys have no shame?
Bryan Singer’s rap sheet of harassment and assault allegations are well-known. They, along with his repeatedly reported bad behaviour on the sets of his films, have become as big a part of the Hollywood whisper network as anything alleged against Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey. If you’re a film lover who’s spent a lot of time online, you’ll be aware of how easy it is to find stories about Singer, his infamous parties and the many tales surrounding his decorum. The now-defunct Gawker wrote extensively about Singer’s parties and ‘obsession with barely legal boys’. They often included pictures too. Queerty were covering these parties and Singer’s reputation almost a decade ago. Michael K of Dlisted even detailed his own alleged encounter with Singer when he was 18. IndieWire have a long and detailed timeline of allegations, lawsuits, news stories and other related issues around Singer’s behaviour that remains tough to read. When I asked my Twitter followers about a month ago to detail when they first heard stories about Singer’s behaviour and the allegations against him, I received many tweets with dates ranging from this year to a decade ago and longer. Others quietly DM-d me with more detailed answers.
All of this adds up to a couple of things: One, everyone knows about Bryan Singer, and two, a hell of a lot of people in his industry just don’t seem to care. They certainly don’t see multiple accusations of assaulting underage boys as reason enough to not offer him a $10 million gig directing the Red Sonja movie.
What do you do when the accused and their cronies have no shame?
Bryan Singer is powerful. Unlike Weinstein when he fell, he still has powerful allies in his corner as well as enough recent money-making hits to ensure his name carries industry clout. He’s famously litigious. His alleged victims are typically young and male, and often involved in the sex industry, and the stigma of homophobia still brings with it a stain of shame that society is keen to overlook. He’s also just secured an 8-figure job which ties him to an iconic woman of comic book lore at a point in pop culture where that has more potency than ever. Now, he has an Oscar contender under his belt, and because of union requirements and despite his own inability to finish the film himself, he gets the glowing credit for it.
Crucially, Singer is not an auteur. He’s a good enough director but he’s someone who has become most successful because he works well in franchises and big name properties. Nobody goes to see an X-Men movie because it’s A Bryan Singer Film, and many will choose to overlook his involvement in Bohemian Rhapsody because his name is nothing compared to the might of Queen.
Even if the film flops, it’s doubtful that will impact Singer since he has the Red Sonja job booked up for the time being. Even if the Esquire article reveals all and truly forces the industry to acknowledge what it has known for decades, what happens next? The #MeToo movement has done immeasurable good but it takes more than one year to overcome bad faith arguments, entrenched bigotry, rape culture and the simple reality that bad men’s reputations matter more than victims’ lives. Jessica Mitford once famously said, ‘You may not be able to change the world but at least you can embarrass the guilty.’ Does that work in an age where not only are abusers utterly shameless but the system consistently rewards them for doing so while the accusers are all but annihilated?
You will all make the judgment call over whether or not to see Bohemian Rhapsody. Maybe Singer’s involvement doesn’t bother you that much and you just want to support Rami Malek, or perhaps you had no intention in seeing the film for reasons totally unconnected to Singer. It would be foolish of us to pretend he won’t be empowered by our pounds and dollars but his clout goes beyond that and frankly, we’re just tired. He probably won’t get my money, but everyone already knows about Bryan Singer and nothing has changed in two decades, so I don’t blame anyone for feeling apathetic in their own choices.
I keep thinking about how, at some point, a young woman, probably an unknown actress, is going to get the job of her dreams and be cast as Red Sonja. I think about all the work she’ll put into it, all the preparation for interviews she’ll go through and the ways she’ll be shielded by publicists, agents and producers to ‘say the right thing’ whenever a journalist brings up Singer. I think about how she’ll be shamed for taking the part and become framed as ‘a double agent for the patriarchy’ for posing with Singer on the red carpet, and how all the men who made it happen in the first place will get away with it. She’ll probably get more hate than Singer himself, because we all expected that shit from him.
So, good luck, Esquire. I hope people listen this time.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.
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