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The Bryan Singer Allegations: Let's Talk About White Male Privilege, Not Gay Culture

By Zachary Tallis | /Bent April 18, 2014 at 9:01AM

Press coverage of the Bryan Singer allegations reveals a nasty truth - to some, it's the movies that matter most
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Bryan Singer

Let's get two things clear. Number one, Bryan Singer has been accused of the repeated anal rape of a child. Number two, none of us can say whether or not he is guilty.

I wanted to state my first point in such bold terms because many articles have described the accusations of his accuser, Michael Egan, in softer phrasing. Language matters, and using terms like abuse and assault, particularly when talking about teenage male victims of sexual abuse, can contribute to a pervading tendency to diminish and belittle such acts. These are deeply serious allegations which, if true, can be presumed to have inflicted irreparable damage on their alleged victim.

But I'm not here to discuss whether or not they are true. Nor do I want to trawl through the stories that are emerging of a sub-culture of powerful gay men in Hollywood and the parties at which they wielded their power through sexuality. Yes, we've known about this for years, and we've known that Bryan Singer has been a big player at such events. There's plenty of evidence of behaviour of his that many, including myself, find deeply questionable. But is that proof that these latest allegations are true? No.

The truth is, you can be utterly despicable in how you use your power and privilege to determine who you get to sleep with, but that doesn't automatically make you a child rapist. And making that inference by saying "We've known about this for years" is pretty illogical.

I say all this in defence of the legal process, not Bryan Singer, believe you me. But to me, the kind of gay sub-culture being discussed is evidence not of Bryan Singer's culpability, but how a separate standard operates for powerful white men in Hollywood, gay or straight.

The worst aspect of the press coverage of Michael Egan's allegations is the suggestion that the timing is related to the release of the latest X Men sequel. A site called Movie Pilot offers a typical reaction: "Well... how about that. The timing is certainly interesting at least?", their writer comments, rather insidiously inferring some kind of hidden agenda without having the guts to state it outright.

What is the suggestion here (and all over Twitter)? That Michael Egan is somehow attempting to skewer the success of the film, or capitalize on the publicity surrounding its director? Sadly, that's hardly a likely outcome, even if it were his intention. For a start, it radically and quite nastily underestimates the emotional and psychological toll of speaking out about rape. Secondly, the truth is that a director is never more invincible than when he releases a popular film.

Why do I bring gender and race into it? Because it's currently only white male directors who our industry allows to ascend to this position of invincibility. You only need to look at a director like Spike Lee, and how often reports of his actions undermine him with derogatory "angry black man" tropes, to see that. Meanwhile, we are shamefully far from the day that the work of women directors is similarly sanctified.

Yet for Bryan Singer, there really are some who believe his films are what matter most. Beneath their article, Movie Pilot is running a horrifying poll for their readers asking "Does it change anything for you?". Here, reader, are your options:

1. Whatever happens, it's the films that matter

2. I'll await the verdict first

3. I just don't buy it

Although I was loath to participate in such a poll, I had to in order to see the results. Turns out, my choice of Option 2 was the least popular among readers, with 1 and 3 currently neck and neck. And frankly, this says it all.

The idea that anyone could even think "Whatever happens, it's the films that matter" is the real problem here. Just ask Roman Polanski, who had a child rape conviction to his name when he won his first Oscar. If you are a (white) (male) director who makes successful films, no behaviour is too damaging to derail your career. I'm not talking about allegations (which shouldn't affect anyone's reputation until proven one way or the other) but known, documented behaviour, which would utterly destroy a man's reputation were they not giving us something we want - a movie.

And please don't get me started on Wagner and anti-semitism and whether art can transcend an artist's personal life. Yes, that's a question. But this is a problem. And it's not a particular Hollywood gay subculture (unpalatable though that may be), but our wider culture, which apparently doesn't give a shit whether a director is guilty of a crime or not, so long as he - yes, he - makes a film we want to see.

This article was amended for clarification on 19th April