A few months ago on Twitter, I asked my followers a question: When was the first time that they heard about the many rumours and allegations surrounding Bryan Singer? The responses were numerous and varied. Some knew because of the many lawsuits mounted against him, while others had heard from friends or acquaintances in the know. People heard from blogs, from news reports, from industry chatter, and in a couple of cases, from friends who moved in those circles. Over the past 24 hours, I have seen many people recount their stories of how they first heard about Bryan Singer and his decades of alleged abuse, often mounted at underage boys. Sarah Marrs of Lainey Gossip (and my podcast co-host) wrote about hearing a Bryan Singer pool party joke at the first LA party she ever attended. I remember being on movie forums in the late 2000s and seeing countless stories about him. There’s even a joke about him in season one of Big Mouth. Even before The Atlantic published their piece detailing decades of his alleged crimes and sexual assaults, I knew about most of them. A hell of a lot of people did. When the story broke online, the universal response was one of shock and disgust but not surprise. People knew about Bryan Singer in the same way they knew about Harvey Weinstein.
Rami Malek claims he didn’t know.
So why don’t I believe him?
Rami Malek is currently the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a good performance, easily the best thing in a truly heinous movie, and people have responded to it with immense enthusiasm. He won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama over hot favourite Bradley Cooper, and he’s been a gracious presence on many a red carpet and talk show sofa. While Malek’s reputation has been that of the hard working industry outsider having his moment in the spotlight, it is tough to ignore the precision and ruthlessness of his awards campaign. Make no mistake, Malek wants that Oscar. That would be fine if his campaign weren’t built on the foundations of two major problems: The questionable depiction of Mercury in the film and the elephant in the room that is Bryan Singer.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times following his Oscar nomination announcement, Malek said, ‘the allegations and things were, believe it or not, honestly something I was not aware of, and that is what it is.’ Malek claims that he was ‘considered before Bryan was even attached’ as director, so he had his ‘head down preparing for this for about a year ahead of time, and I never really looked up. I didn’t know much about Bryan.’ In a truly bizarre moment, Malek then theorizes that ‘perhaps it was Freddie himself’ keeping Malek shielded from Singer’s reputation ‘because we wanted to make a product that was worthy of him’.
This is not the first time Malek has talked about Singer, or at the very least avoided trying to do so. Eric Kohn of IndieWire asked Malek about the complaints made about Singer’s on-set behaviour and his dismissal from the film. Kohn never mentions the sexual assault allegations, but Malek’s response hints at the wider picture. After explaining the situation with Dexter Fletcher and how production continued, Malek says, ‘I’ll be interested to see how you write about our director situation. Good luck. It seems like you’re hellbent on doing it.’
So let’s pretend for a moment that we believe Rami Malek on this original claim. Let’s imagine that he, in his 15 or so years in the industry, genuinely did not hear about these allegations (because Freddie Mercury’s spirit protected him from them). We can give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t know when he signed on to play what must have been the biggest opportunity of his career. Perhaps his team protected him and the executives at 20th Century Fox were keen to shield him from such stories and extensively reported lawsuits. Let’s give him that. But there’s no way he didn’t eventually find out. And there’s no way he and his team did not prep in anticipation of being asked questions about this. So far, Malek has tiptoed around the problem by insisting everyone focus on the memory of Mercury, a point that becomes all the more laughable when we consider how Bohemian Rhapsody seemingly takes such joy in screwing over its central subject by making major details to well-documented history. Now that he has his Oscar nomination, he’s ready to directly deny any prior knowledge instead of avoiding the question for fear it would jeopardize his chance at the little gold man.
Malek is not the problem here, obviously. This is a rot that goes deeper than one man’s willful ignorance and PR driven statements. Bryan Singer’s poison has seeped into the very foundations of the industry, and his abuses were aided by executives willing to play the game for profit and glory. The surviving band members of Queen were the ones who wanted Singer to direct, according to The Atlantic. It was the Fox executives who continued to employ him, even though he had proven time and time again to be a liability. It took a village to empower Singer over two decades, at the cost of countless young men. And it took an industry to collectively commit to the delusion that rewarding a film with his sole directorial credit could be done without further strengthening his grip on the business. Rami Malek, like the producers of Queen who seemingly lied to protect Singer only last week, may think what he is doing has nothing to do with Bryan Singer but the reality is that it has everything to do with him. He can pretend that Oscar win would be good only for him and the ‘memory of Freddie Mercury’ but the history books will record things a little differently. Mercury’s memory does not get to be the hostage to this heinous situation.
Bryan Singer should pay for his crimes, but we should also dissect further how a willing and able industry, populated by people who believed they could reap the benefits of association with Singer and not feel any of the consequences, helped to make him so untouchable. Rami Malek can claim all he wants that he didn’t know the stories, but when everyone else knew them, can you blame us for not believing him?
Header Image Source: Gage Skidmore @ Wikimedia Commons