Mere days after The Atlantic released an article alleging sexual abuse of underaged boys by director Bryan Singer, Millennium Films reaffirmed its commitment to the director for its upcoming Red Sonja film. The film’s Israeli-American producer, Ari Lerner, issued a statement on Thursday, January 24, “I continue to be in development for Red Sonja and Bryan Singer continues to be attached. The over $800 million Bohemian Rhapsody has grossed, making it the highest grossing drama in film history, is testament to his remarkable vision and acumen. I know the difference between agenda driven fake news and reality, and I am very comfortable with this decision. In America people are innocent until proven otherwise.” (Ed note: Gone with the Wind and Titanic are currently the highest grossing dramas in film history when adjusting for inflation.) Prior to Bohemian Rhapsody, singer had compiled an impressive resume of successful films including a string of superhero hits, directing Superman Returns, X-Men, X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse.
The release of Lerner’s statement came after the studio was reportedly flooded with calls and emails suggesting that it would be complicit in Singer’s abuse after The Atlantic exposé came out. The article, compiled after a year of research and interviews with 50 sources, documented the claims of four men who said they had sex with, or were sexually assaulted by the director when they were underaged. The first of the alleged encounters date back to 1997 when Victor Valdovinos claimed that the then-30-something director sexually assaulted him while he was a 13-year-old extra on the director’s Apt Pupil movie. Two other men claim they were 15 and 17 when the director preyed on them, having first plied them with drugs or alcohol. In December 2017, Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed suit, claiming that Singer had raped him aboard a yacht in Seattle in 2003.
That lawsuit came days after Singer was fired from his most recent film, Bohemian Rhapsody. The firing was unrelated to sexual misdeeds, but was due to his erratic behavior on-set which included frequent unexplained absences and which reportedly lead to a near-mutiny by the cast and crew. Singer was also dropped by his management agency in the wake of the suit. Due to Directors Guild of America rules, Singer remained on Bohemian Rhapsody’s credits as sole director. But, his presence on the credits lead to the film being dropped by GLAAD from its list of nominees for Best Original Film at this year’s GLAAD Media Awards. The announcement of that event taking place near-simultaneously with the statement by producer Lerner.
For his part, Singer released the following statement about the article,
“The last time I posted about this subject, Esquire magazine was preparing to publish an article written by a homophobic journalist who has a bizarre obsession with me dating back to 1997. After careful fact-checking and, in consideration of the lack of credible sources, Esquire chose not to publish this piece of vendetta journalism.” He continued, “That didn’t stop this writer from selling it to The Atlantic. It’s sad that The Atlantic would stoop to this low standard of journalistic integrity. Again, I am forced to reiterate that this story rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention. And it is no surprise that, with Bohemian Rhapsody being an award-winning hit, this homophobic smear piece has been conveniently timed to take advantage of its success.”
The director is referring to the decision by the article’s original publisher, Hearst Communications, owner of Esquire, to drop the article by Alex French and Maximillian Potter. It is not clear which of the duo Singer was referring to as homophobic. The writers noted that their article passed both the journalistic standards review of Esquire as well as The Atlantic and that they stand behind their article.
GLAAD issued their own statement in response, “Singer’s response to The Atlantic story wrongly used ‘homophobia’ to deflect from sexual assault allegations and GLAAD urges the media and the industry at large to not gloss over the fact that survivors of sexual assault should be put first. The Time’s Up movement, which was formed in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations and subsequent downfall of mogul Harvey Weinstein weighed in and applauded GLAAD’s decision. The group, which provides legal support for sexual abuse accusers and is committed to gender parity in Hollywood stated, “We are in the midst of a cultural reckoning. Though there was once a time when business as usual could continue amid credible allegations of sexual assault and violence, that era has ended forever. The recent allegations regarding Bryan Singer’s behavior are horrifying and must be taken seriously and investigated.
Ironically, Red Sonja had been viewed as Singer’s rehabilitation and reentry into the good graces of Hollywood. With its core theme of female empowerment that dated back to Robert E. Howard’s creation of the character in 1934 which was further developed into the sword-swinging warrior incorporated into the Hyborian Age starting in Marvel’s Conan in 1973. That theme of a woman as capable – and as deadly – as her male peers has extra significance in the age of the Me Too Movement.
The movie also marks a rebirth for the character herself. Despite an enviable popularity among fans of her exploits in words and art, Sonja herself has not appeared on the big screen since 1985’s Red Sonja starring Brigitte Nielsen and “it’s definitely not Conan although it is Conan” Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, there has only been a semi-animated 2016 “motion comic” film entitled Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues, produced by comic publisher Dynamite Entertainment and released on DVD and Blu-Ray to decidedly mixed reviews.
In parallel to Red Sonja being relaunch of a fan favorite on the big screen, but Dyanamite, the publisher of her comic book, will be relaunching its series in February after the current creative team of writer Amy Chu and artist Andrea Mutti bows out with this month’s issue 25. Writer Mark Russell and artist Mirko Colak will take over the task of recounting the tales of the “She-Devil with a Sword.”
Even casual fans of Red Sonja know that “troubles with men” is a recurring theme throughout her adventures. And, if she doesn’t overcome those troubles with the blade of her sword, she defeats them with her wits and cunning. The next few months should show whether that legendary ability carries over into the real world.