While #OscarsSoWhite and allegations of racial discrimination were the pressing sociopolitical issues heading into this year’s Academy Awards, the big, overarching topic that dominated the show – outside of Chris Rock’s sardonic monologue and Leo DiCaprio’s meandering lecture on climate change – was an altogether different subject.
Many online commentators considered Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens to You” – which was proceeded by a somber alloquy from Vice President Joe Biden on the importance of consent and featured the ubiquitous songstress surrounded by a chorus of sexual assault survivors with phrases such as “it happened to me” and “not your fault” scrawled on their arms – to be the highlight of the awards show. Interestingly enough, the film from which the song was nominated, The Hunting Ground, was excoriated by the Harvard Law School and Florida State University for painting “a seriously false picture” of sexual assault statistics and containing “major distortions and glaring omissions to support its simplistic narrative.” Casting further doubts on the legitimacy of the heavily criticized documentary, it was later revealed that producers of the film made heavy edits to several Wikipedia pages leading up to the movie’s airing on CNN to “authenticate” its questionable accusations.
The sexual assault motif carried through with Spotlight – a film about The Boston Globe reporters purportedly uncovering a massive Catholic Church child abuse cover-up – taking home the Best Picture honors. Producer Steve Golin used his acceptance speech to make another dig at the Vatican, declaring “Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”
Of course, Spotlight is a film that glosses over many inconvenient truths – beginning with the fact that clergy abuse in Boston was well-publicized long before The Globe’s award-winning expose. The Boston Phoenix reporter Kristen Lombardi filed a report on Catholic sex abuse a full-year before The Globe’s highly-touted series and high-ranking clergy in Massachusetts, such as the Rev. James R. Porter, had been sentenced for child molestation as early as 1993. On top of that, several people who were dramatized in Spotlight – namely, Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn and Globe reporter Steve Kurkjian – slam the movie, accusing director and co-writer Tom McCarthy of numerous fabrications.
Hollywood’s self-congratulations for confronting sexual abuse at the Oscars, however, belies a downright blase attitude towards sexual assaults perpetrated outside the “acceptable targets” of Catholicism and the supposedly endemic frat-boy\dudebro college “rape culture.”
While La-La Land champions Spotlight for tackling a controversy that has been public knowledge for at least 50 years – the University of Notre Dame was holding lectures on clergy abuse in the 1960s, The National Catholic Reporter published in-depth articles on the subject in the early 1980s and priests being sentenced for molestation was national news as early as 1985 – the mass media and film industries remain dead silent on contemporary child abuse scandals plaguing Orthodox Jewish community in the United States and Australia. According to The Jerusalem Post, child abuse is so ingrained in the ultra-fundamentalist haredi sects that they estimate as many as half of Brooklyn’s Hassidic boys experience sexual maltreatment. Writing for The Guardian, David Marr recounts how horrific sexual abuse ran rampant in Sydney and Melboune’s Yeshivah schools for at least three decades with at least one expat teacher, David Kramer, being arrested for statutory sodomy in the U.S. In a stomach-churning article for Vice, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg recounts visiting Jerusalem and encountering unfathomable sexual abuses in the city’s mikvahs, ritual bath houses that have been repurposed as child sex “assembly lines.” One glimpse at the news and articles page on the Survivors for Justice website shows the astonishing prevalence of the Jewish child abuse crisis, with hundreds upon hundreds of stories recounting sexual molestation and rape in London, Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles. So hesitant to say anything critical about Jewish practices, mum’s the word even when an archaic circumcision rite results in an infant’s death from herpes.
Despite the widespread severity of this sexual abuse, however, no mainstream Hollywood film studios have even gotten anywhere close to addressing the devastating problem, or even acknowledging it. The same goes for the rampant child sex abuse in mosques across the U.S. and the U.K. Child sexual battery in Tampa, 9-year-old girls being molested in Queens and widespread victimization in Chicago are just the tip of the iceberg; The Times revealed that not only did Pakistani migrants run a child sex ring – believed to consist of at least 1,400 victims – with impunity for more than 15 years, north English police intentionally hid information from the public concerning the extent of the exploitation. Needless to say, don’t expect that one to get optioned as Oscar Bait anytime soon.
Hollywood doesn’t even have the chutzpah to go after sexual abuse in the Indian guru circles. While disgusting maltreatment in Mormon country is well-documented and well-disseminated, the deplorable crimes of corrupt cult leaders such as Prakashanand Saraswati, Satyananda Saraswati, and Akhandananda Saraswati remain swept under the rug. Nor does Hollywood have any desire to bring up the long ignored history of America’s state-sponsored child abuse, including a practically government-subsidized child prostitution ring in Nebraska’s foster care system in the late 1980s and the 100 years of unchecked child abuse at the Dozier School for Boys in Florida, where children were mercilessly beaten, raped and even murdered by state employees for over a century.
But the ultimate indictment of Hollywood’s mendacious double standard on sexual abuse comes in the form of shying away from its own track record of disregarded child exploitation.
Do we begin with the blatant hypocrisy of Hollywood lionizing directors and writers like Woody Allen and X-Men scribe Bryan Singer, who have long-been accused of pedo activity? Or how about the fact that Roman Polanksi remains a celebrated auteur – who has even received a Best Director Ocar – despite raping a 13-year-old girl?
What about the countless allegations of sexual molestation from former child stars such as Corey Feldman, Corey Haim and Todd Bridges? Or worse yet, the fact that so many convicted child molesters were able to waltz right back into Hollywood once their outrageously shortened sentences concluded?
Where was the outrage over child talent manager Martin Weiss raping a pre-teen boy more than 30 times over a three-year period? Where was the outrage over child casting agent Jason James Murphy – who was charged with the molestation of an eight-year-old boy in 1996 – being brought in to work on films like Super 8, School of Rock and The Bad News Bears?
Manager Bob Villard copped a plea deal in 2005 after committing a lewd act on a 13-year-old child. Years before, he received an unbelievable slap on the wrist for possessing thousands of obscene images of young boys in his home. And 15 years before that, he was indicted by a grand jury on federal child pornography charges – which, apparently, wasn’t concerning enough to prevent him from spending the next 20 years working directly with underage actors.
Then there’s Disney composer Fernando Rivas, who was charged with creating and sending obscene videos of four-year-old children over the Internet.
Nor did a prior child molestation charge prevent actor Brian Peck from working on the Disney program The Suite Life of Zack & Cody just two years later.
Then there is the extraordinary case of director Victor Salva, who videotaped himself performing a disgusting act on a 12-year-old child. Once his preposterously reduced prison sentence was up, he went right back to work in Hollywood, helming, among other features, 1995’s Disney-produced Powder and the MGM-produced Jeepers Creepers films.
Those who have attempted to address Hollywood’s pronounced pedophilia problem have been met with deafened ears. In 2014 Amy Berg – a documentarian who produced the Oscar-nominated Catholic abuse film Deliver Us From Evil – began work on a Hollywood child abuse documentary. The film focused on the Digital Entertainment Network founder Marc Collins-Rector – accused of molesting countless young boys alongside his associates Chad Shackley and Brock Pierce – who was charged with no less than eight counts of child enticement in 2002. However, when Michael Egan – one of the subjects in Berg’s documentary who alleged abuse – pled guilty to an unrelated fraud charge, the film An Open Secret was drastically recut, and when the movie was finally released in 2015 – unsurprisingly, to virtually no fanfare – Berg herself inexplicably refused to promote it.
This detestable, willful refusal to address sexual abuse of children makes Hollywood the exemplar of hypocrisy. Sure, they will make a big fuss when they can use rape and molestation to push some sort of abstract political agenda, but when it comes to maltreatment and exploitation that doesn’t gel with their narrowed worldview and skewed ideologies, to hell with you. Of course Hollywood will jump at the chance to demonize and vilify Catholics and fraternities, but as soon as the child molesters and serial rapists are revealed to be imams and rabbis and hotshots in the Hills, all of a sudden the spotlight mysteriously fades.
Looks like some unforgivable sins are a little less unforgivable in Hollywood, just as long as you are their kind of sexual predator. Ever the egotistical and ignorant sorts, perhaps somebody should send the film industry a memo: if they’re looking for a lamentable, depraved “rape culture” to eradicate, perhaps they ought to start with the one they’ve cultivated in their own backyard.