From screening Peterloo amongst industrial disputes to allegations of abuse, the film industry of 2018 presents critics with the sort of moral quandaries few seem ready to engage withby Caspar Salmon / November 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Bohemian Rhapsody, the recently-released film, which charts the life of Freddie Mercury and the ascendancy of rock band Queen, was nominally made by Bryan Singer.
“Nominally,” because the director was very publicly fired from the project and replaced on directing duties by Dexter Fletcher late last year following a period of repeated absences from the set. Now, however, Bryan Singer has been reinstated as the official director of the film, with his name on publicity material.
Coincidentally, Singer is the subject of a reportedly incendiary Esquire profile, rumoured to be published soon, which will allegedly lift the lid on various aspects of Singer’s much-bruited private life. The director has been the subject of harassment accusations going back as far as 1997—all of which have been rejected, been withdrawn or have not made it to court.
The film world, therefore, finds itself in a quandary—or at least what should be a quandary. Singer has consistently denied any allegations of harassment or assault, and has litigated accordingly. But other cases are less clear-cut. What is the role of the critic in these cases? Quite beyond the art-not-the-artist argument, how does a reviewer square a director or actor’s troubled reputation with attending the film; how does an editor commission articles that generate publicity for it?
A critical vigilance
It isn’t hard to see that there’s a difference in these two scenarios: 1) a film by someone reported to be a sex offender is released, and a journalist reports that it has been released; 2) a film by someone reported to be a sex offender is released, and a journalist sees the film and discusses its merits.
In this writer’s opinion, journalists have an imperative to exercise a moral code when dealing with work by people repeatedly accused of wrongdoing. Critics should furthermore pay attention to work that might be seen to further an abusive or extreme agenda.
In a review for Variety of Dragged Across Concrete—a film starring Mel Gibson, who has a history of antisemitism, racism and abusing women—the critic Guy Lodge gives a good example of this sort of vigilance, writing: “Zahler’s film places a lot of …. wink-wink reactionary assertions in the mouths of Gibson and Vince Vaughn—noted Hollywood conservatives both, of course—as old-school policemen who run topically afoul of a crackdown on brutality in the force.” Since Gibson’s…