Let’s agree that many people who yell “what about?” as a way to divert attention away from the problem at hand to some other, possibly invented concern, are immensely unserious jokers who never argue in good faith and will probably die without knowing genuine love. That said: What about Bryan Singer? Anyone who watched last night’s Academy Awards may have noticed that for all the awards handed to Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, Singer went entirely unmentioned by the winners, including Best Actor recipient and Freddie Mercury lip-syncher Rami Malek. Surely, this is the first time that the director of a multi-Oscar winner was left out of every speech, even though his work is the reason why any of the beneficiaries were there to accept.
This didn’t occur in a vacuum: Though he’s credited as director on the finished product, Singer was fired from the production under combative circumstances, and in January The Atlantic released a bombshell article chronicling years of rumors about alleged sexual impropriety, including relationships with underage men. Such rumors have followed Singer for a long time, and he may finally be “canceled,” in the modern sense — following the report, his next film project was shelved by the studio.
But for a Hollywood suddenly so concerned with rooting out the industry’s ingrained sexism and harassment, as well as using the platform to make grander post-Trump political gestures, the complete failure to address Singer in any way was astonishingly hypocritical. It was, in fact, easier for the attending celebrities to make broad gestures about how to combat systemic problems, rather than acknowledge the very specific individual who operated in their midst for over 20 years.
If you voted Democrat, you probably observed this and thought, “Hmm, that’s weird.” If you lean toward the other side, and are already predisposed to think that all actors are just pretentious phonies — a common gripe about the “Hollywood elite” who love to weigh in on political issues in between projects — this would only confirm all of your beliefs about how fundamentally biased and flawed “the media” is, inasmuch as all of the vague grandstanding about Trump received a standing ovation, while the literal accused pedophile who worked with multiple Oscar winners was an afterthought.
The Singer situation is difficult to grapple with onstage, or even joke about. Unlike Harvey Weinstein, another industry “open secret,” the director hasn’t been formally arrested, has not admitted wrongdoing of any sort, has vigorously defended himself in lawsuits, and has otherwise disappeared from public life. It would be completely unsurprising if there was a formal gag order forbidding anyone associated with Bohemian Rhapsody from addressing the allegations out loud. Perhaps the only honest answer someone like Malek could give would be something like: “Well, legally speaking, everything is just an allegation, even though they’re obviously horrible. Of course I knew about them, despite what I’ve said in the past, but I thought they were just rumors. What was I supposed to do: quit the project, or recuse myself from the voting? Come on; I invested years of my life in this project, which I believe in, and I don’t think association with a criminal should taint all the hard work everyone put in by hundreds of professionals.”
This would be political suicide, as the craven trade-offs public figures typically make to preserve their identities can never be acknowledged out loud. Moreover, the content of anything Malek says will be attacked for its incomplete morality, as has already happened. It is actually easier to obfuscate or omit; the only people who complain are downers like me, who are aware of the available facts and can only be flabbergasted at their irrelevance to the pageantry of rewarding a dull impersonation with the industry’s highest honors and then write about it on a website.
The Oscars are routinely criticized because they award the “wrong” movies, due to constructed narratives and the flawed taste of a voting base that’s still overwhelmingly white and old, despite adjustments in recent years. Already, there is a pervading sense that the success of movies like Green Book will age horribly, as societal attitudes on race continue to evolve. But the obvious hypocrisy of supposedly championing diversity, gender equality, and safe working environments despite the revolting (alleged) wrongdoing of Singer and the other unprosecuted sex criminals in the industry is the part that will really seem unconscionable in the future. As far as the industry is concerned, though, right now anyone who cares is just someone crying “what about?”