They say in life there are no second chances — that is, unless you’re a famous man accused of sexual misconduct.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, director Bryan Singer has been tapped by Millennium Films to helm the long-gestating reimaging of Red Sonja less than one year after he was sued for rape. In December, 31-year-old Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a civil lawsuit against the X-Men director, saying that Singer sexually assaulted him when he was just 17 years old.
It’s galling enough that Singer was hired to direct another big-budget tentpole just months after he was fired from the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic for not showing up to set. Meanwhile, Patty Jenkins had to wait 15 years after nabbing Charlize Theron an Oscar before she got to direct Wonder Woman.
But what’s worse than that is the naked cynicism behind Singer’s redemption arc.
By choosing Singer over one of the many qualified female directors who could have brought the story to life, Hollywood is forcing audiences between supporting an alleged sexual predator and backing female-led popcorn movies. It’s both an affront to the #MeToo movement and everyone who has demanded inclusivity as the film industry begins to expand opportunity to diverse voices.
Red Sonja has been in development for at least a decade. At one time, Robert Rodriguez was attached to produce a remake of the 1985 spinoff of Conan the Barbarian, which originally starred the Brigitte Nielsen in the title role.
Although Rodriguez appeared at Comic-Con in 2008 to discuss the project — then slated for a 2009 release — it stalled several times before being scrapped.
By reviving Red Sonja, Millenium hoped to capitalize on the demand for female superheroes following the landmark success of Wonder Woman two years ago. After the Gal Gadot actioner grossed $820 million worldwide, other studios rushed their own women-centric blockbusters into production: Silk and Silver & Black at Sony; Batgirl and Supergirl at Warner Brothers; and Captain Marvel at Disney.
The studio is reportedly prepared to “pay Singer top dollar for the assignment,” which THR claims is positioned to be the start of a potential franchise.
But in a month where fellow #MeToo poster boy Louis C.K. debuted new stand-up material and New York magazine ran a defense of Woody Allen by a longtime friend, the announcement of Singer’s involvement in Red Sonya is another reminder instance of men being granted redemption without true accountability for their alleged misdeeds.
Singer’s history would be well-known to the production team behind Red Sonja.
Following the release of the 1997 Nazi thriller Apt Pupil, three minors — local athletes Devin St. Albin, Ryan Glomboske, and David Stockdale — say they were ordered to strip naked for a scene that took place in a high school locker room. Four years ago, 35-year-old Michael Egan claimed he was raped by Singer and his friends multiple times over a three-year period.
In November 2017, accuser Justin Smith alleged Singer inserted a finger into his anus without Smith’s consent after grabbing his backside.
“He had his other hand clamped on my shoulder so I couldn’t immediately move away,” Smith claimed in a series of tweets. “He penetrated me for a split second before I shoved him away. I said no, that I just wanted to go home. He said fine, but I’d better not tell anyone because no one would believe me anyway.”
Although the Apt Pupil lawsuit was dropped and Smith’s tweetstorm was deleted under threat of legal action from Singer’s team, several of his close friends have been successfully prosecuted for the abuses he has been accused.
Marc Collins-Rector, founder of the online streaming platform Digital Entertainment Network, pled guilty in 2004 to eight counts of child enticement. After fighting extradition to the United States for two years, he accepted a plea deal under charges of “transporting underage boys across state lines to commit illegal sex acts,” as the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
After the company filed bankruptcy in 2000, several former employees sued, claiming they were given jobs as a means to coerce them into sex. One of the accusers was Alexander Burton, who starred as Pyro in Singer’s first X-Men film.
The Oscar-winning director also happened to be an investor in DEN.
Gary Goddard, another associate of Singer’s, was accused of molestation in 2017 by ER actor Anthony Edwards, who claimed the incident occurred when he was a minor. Goddard and Singer were fixtures at the “M&C estate,” an Encino mansion owned by Collins-Rector which allegedly served as the site of numerous underage sex parties.
Although the claims feature heavily in Amy Berg’s documentary An Open Secret, they are hardly a secret. They led to a successful petition from USC students to remove Singer’s name from a building at the School of Cinematic Arts.
The problems with Singer don’t end with sexual assault, however.
In addition to being terminated from Bohemian Rhapsody following on-set clashes with lead actor Rami Malek, he reportedly disappeared during the filming of X-Men: Apocalypse multiple times. Simon Kinberg, who will be taking the reins on Dark Phoenix, allegedly had to step in to direct when Singer was unavailable.
Meanwhile, four of the director’s last five movies have underperformed to expectations. Jack the Giant Slayer lost over $100 million. Superman Returns went $60 million over its production budget. Valkyrie, aka that movie where Tom Cruise plays a Nazi, barely broke even — one of its star’s lowest-grossing movies in a decade. X-Men Apocalypse made $200 million less than the film which came before it.
Giving another shot to a disgraced director hot off a string of flops isn’t merely bad for business. It shows that Hollywood is willing to take a stand against sexual assault — except when it isn’t.
Although critics of #MeToo have lamented that careers have been ruined over little more than mob justice, men like Singer who have been implicated by the movement seem to be doing fine. Netflix has said it will welcome back Aziz Ansari to make more Master of None whenever he’s ready. Gary Oldman won an Oscar. Johnny Depp is starring in the next Harry Potter movie.
Sidelining the claims of accusers is particularly painful in Singer’s case because once upon a time, Red Sonja was intended to star one of #MeToo’s most vocal advocates: Rose McGowan. McGowan — who was depicted in concept art licking a sword covered in blood — was engaged to Rodriguez at the time.
Rodriguez has claimed he cast McGowan in Grindhouse to send a message to producer Harvey Weinstein, who she says forced himself on her at the Sundance Film Festival a decade earlier. The actress’ claims played a major role in generating the momentum that spawned #MeToo, in which more than 100 women came forward to accuse Weinstein of assault.
But nearly a year after that movement started a national conversation about power, coercion, and abuse, it’s being derailed by the very men who got us into this mess in the first place.
Because the truth is that Red Sonja is just the beginning. Singer will continue to get second — and third and fourth — chances at the expense of every single person who has bravely shared their stories. The same network that allowed his associates an environment to exploit vulnerable young men is the same one that will continue looking the other way when it’s convenient.
Image via Getty