Dear Mr. Avi Lerner:
I am writing this letter in regard to one of the films in development at your company. As someone who admires your contributions to genre filmmaking, especially in the past decade with The Expendables franchise and the upcoming Hellboy reboot, it is deeply concerning that you have hired Bryan Singer as the director of Red Sonja, despite him having decades of sexual assault allegations and lawsuits to his name, dating as early as the 1990s. Equally troubling is your response to the exposé that The Atlantic recently published where you cited the financial success of Singer’s latest film, Bohemian Rhapsody, as encouragement to keep him attached to the project. You followed this up by stating, “I know the difference between agenda driven fake news and reality.” This response sends a dangerous message that success at the box office negates predatory behavior of powerful men in the film industry.
Alex French and Maximillian Potter conducted a twelve-month long investigation of Bryan Singer’s sexual assault allegations and spoke with four men who shared their stories of being sexually abused while underaged. Their work was published in The Atlantic after being abruptly shot down by Hearst executives at Esquire with no explanation. The article mentions that on the set of Apt Pupil, several underage extras were asked to perform in a nude scene without permission, allegations that led to lawsuits. One of the actors, Victor Valdovinos, was 13 when he alleges Singer fondled him on set. There is also reference to parties where he would molest young boys. There are frequent mentions of Singer’s desire to force his hands down the pants of his victims, the constant objectification of these underaged men being passed around like toys, and the fact that he was fully aware of the ages of his victims prior to having sex with them. A man under the false name Andy goes in depth on how he became addicted to drugs, got involved in prostitution and starred in porn following his sexual encounter with Singer at age 15. A lawsuit was filed in 2014 by Michael Egan alleging he was assaulted back in 1999 by Singer in Hawaii, also aged 15. The allegations run deep and grow more severe than what I briefly describe here. I believe categorizing such allegations as “agenda driven fake news,” buying into Singer’s claim that it is a “homophobic smear piece,” is disheartening and irresponsible.
Back in December 2017, Indiewire published a timeline featuring not only past allegations of sexual assault against Singer but also details on the productions he worked on dating back to 1994. His sets had varying levels of trouble, including early allegations against ousted actor Kevin Spacey while filming The Usual Suspects, a feud with Halle Berry that delayed production on X2: X-Men United, and frequent absences from the sets of Superman Returns, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Bohemian Rhapsody, the last of which led to him being fired from production with roughly two weeks left of shooting. At the same time as his firing, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed a lawsuit for being raped at age 17 by Singer. Fox maintains that the firing was only due to his absence from set while Rhapsody producer Graham King called the situation “unfortunate” in an interview in January. Lead actor Rami Malek later came out stating, “In my situation with Bryan, it was not pleasant, not at all.” Even if you choose to believe that Singer is innocent of the acts he has been accused of, his long history of problematic sets should give you pause in terms of whether he is the appropriate choice to direct Red Sonja. Who is to say that any of the issues that supposedly occurred on these past sets will not occur when your film begins production? Is that a risk worth taking?
You refer to the high box office numbers of Bohemian Rhapsody as an indicator of Singer’s talent as a filmmaker, but this makes a flawed correlation between ticket sales and quality of content. While the film did gross north of $870 million worldwide, it also earned a mediocre 61% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes among 366 critics, barely counting as a fresh rating. On Metacritic, the film received an average score of 49 out of 100 based on 50 critic reviews. 33 out of those 50 reviews are labeled as mixed-to-negative, ranging between scores as high as a 60 and as low as a 25. To go one step further, Singer has struggled to maintain critical success among the rest of his filmography with Apt Pupil, Jack the Giant Slayer, and X-Men: Apocalypse all earning rotten scores below 60% on Rotten Tomatoes and his only universally acclaimed films being X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Usual Suspects.
At the box office, Singer’s track record is as spotty as the critical reception of his work. The most successful films that he has directed have benefited from the brand recognition of properties like X-Men, Superman, and Queen. With all due respect, none of the films from the Conan the Barbarian franchise have grossed more than $70 million at the worldwide box office including the $48 million haul of the 2011 remake. Additionally, the original Red Sonja spin-off film grossed $7 million back in 1985. Brand recognition alone will not be enough to propel this iteration to be a smash hit on the level of Singer’s biggest films. Even having a recognizable brand with the aforementioned Jack the Giant Slayer did not stop the film from losing Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures between $125 million and $140 million. Why risk hiring a filmmaker who has proven not to deliver at the box office without the help of a widely beloved brand?
One of the factors that Red Sonja will need in order to be successful from is a recognizable or breakout star in the title role. Amid the #MeToo movement, actors are being careful about the projects they choose depending on the people involved. We are no longer seeing scenarios like when actors and filmmakers signed a petition in favor of disgraced director Roman Polanski in 2009. Back in 2017, director Ridley Scott famously replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer for their film All the Money in the World a month prior to release following his sexual assault allegations. In the same year, Timothée Chalamet announced that he was donating the salary he earned working on Woody Allen’s yet to be released film, A Rainy Day in New York, to charity. This past January, Lady Gaga pulled a song she worked on with R. Kelly from iTunes in support of his victims. Most recently, Emma Thompson stepped down from working on the upcoming film Luck by Skydance Animation following the hiring of former Pixar head John Lassetter. In her letter to the studio, she asked this question: “If a man has made women at his companies feel undervalued and disrespected for decades, why should the women at his new company think that any respect he shows them is anything other than an act that he’s required to perform by his coach, his therapist and his employment agreement?” That same question applies to Bryan Singer.
The question of separating the artist from the art has become significant, especially since the start of the #MeToo movement. I still struggle with this idea myself. Can I still consider Se7en among my favorite movies despite knowing what Kevin Spacey has done? Can I still listen to Michael Jackson’s music after watching the HBO Documentary Leaving Neverland and hearing Wade Robson and James Safechuck speak their truths of being abused? Is it okay that Bohemian Rhapsody won four Academy Awards regardless of the disgusting accusations against Bryan Singer? For now, my answer to all those questions is no. I cannot in good conscience support a product that benefits an individual who has used their position in power to sexually abuse people. If Singer remains the director of Red Sonja, I will not be able to stomach the idea of my ticket purchase helping fund his next party. By extension, the thought of him being paid $10 million to direct this film disturbs me to no end.
There are a vast number of talented filmmakers in Hollywood that do not have the same baggage as Singer that can direct this film. Perhaps think about hiring a female director to helm the project considering that Red Sonja is a female protagonist. Look at the $820 million that Wonder Woman earned under the direction of Patty Jenkins. This past weekend, Captain Marvel opened to $153 million at the domestic box office being directed by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden. Last year, Lynne Ramsay directed You Were Never Really Here, a film where the protagonist saves a young girl from the pedophiles that abducted her. Having Bryan Singer, a man accused of sexual assault, tell the story of Red Sonja, a sexual assault survivor, is not a good look. You have an opportunity to listen to Singer’s victims and not enable his behavior. Please consider removing him from Red Sonja because as long as he is attached to the project, I will not be in the theater, and I am sure I am not the only one. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read this letter.
The phone number to the National Sexual Assault Hotline is (800) 656-HOPE. Click here to make a donation to RAINN and contribute to the fight against sexual assault.
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