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TW: Rape and Sexual Assault
Unfortunately, celebrities frequently have a proclivity for defending or being complicit in sexually abusive and immoral behaviors. This is especially prominent within the film industry. It’s known within Hollywood that some directors, producers and actors have committed sexual crimes such as harassment, grooming and rape. Many don’t face consequences and continue to have thriving careers. Take American filmmaker Bryan Singer, for example. Singer most notably created the popular “X-Men” movie series. He has faced multiple lawsuits and allegations regarding sexual assault from the 1990s to 2019. Despite this, he’s a free man who continues to work in the industry. Even those who face consequences and actual criminal charges still somehow garner support. The most recent example of this is regarding the case of Danny Masterson.
Masterson, an actor who most notably starred in “That 70s Show,” was found guilty on May 31 on two of three counts of rape, and he faces 30 years to life in prison. When a guilty verdict is reached and sentencing is scheduled, people are given the opportunity to write letters to the judge in order to request leniency in the sentencing process. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, former co-stars of Masterson’s on “That 70s Show,” among the more than 50 people who did this. Reporter Meghann Cuniff and journalist Tony Ortega published full copies of both of their letters.
In Kutcher’s letter, he describes Masterson as a “role model” who has
had nothing but a “positive influence” on him. Kutcher also mentions that Masterson has never lied to him in their decades-long relationship. He goes on to recall an incident at a pizza store where Masterson defended a woman who was being berated by her “belligerent” boyfriend as a testament to Masterson treating people with “decency, equality, and generosity.” Kutcher concludes the letter by asking the judge to take his testament to Masterson’s character into consideration when sentencing him.
Kunis writes in her letter that her “dear friend” Masterson has had a “remarkable influence” on her life, saying, “Throughout our time together, Danny has proven to be an amazing friend, confidant, and, above all, an outstanding older brother figure to me.” She also mentions how Masterson’s interactions with his daughter are “heartwarming and enlightening” and how he puts his family at the forefront of his life. She concludes her letter with a testament to how Masterson has been a “driving force” in shaping her character and vouches for his “exceptional character.”
The publishing of these letters led to a wave of online backlash, especially because Kunis and Kutcher were board members of a foundation called Thorn, an anti-child sex abuse charity. The backlash led to Kunis and Kutcher releasing an apology video on Instagram. Kutcher opens the video by saying, “We are aware of the pain that has been caused by the character letters that we wrote on behalf of Danny Masterson.” Kunis follows by saying, “We support victims. We have done this historically through our work and will continue to do so in the future.” Kutcher explains that the letters were written “a couple months ago” due to Masterson’s family reaching out and requesting them so the judge could take their friendship with Masterson into consideration. He also makes sure to note that their letters weren’t meant to undermine the victims’ testimony and that they support them, saying, “Our heart goes out to every single person who’s ever been a victim of sexual assault, sexual abuse.”
This video generated even more backlash than the letters themselves, with social media exploding with criticisms and calling out the disingenuous nature of their apology video. Public Relations crisis professional Molly McPherson pointed out that the video lacked an actual verbal apology. McPherson said in a TikTok video, “That apology video was not an apology. What we all witnessed was an explanation video.” Actress Christina Ricci seemingly criticized their support of Masterson on her Instagram story, writing, “So sometimes people we loved and admired do horrible things. They might not do these things to us and we only know who they were to us but that doesn’t mean they didn’t do the horrible things and to discredit the abused is a crime” and goes on to mention that she’s known “seemingly awesome guys” that were abusers behind the scenes. Kunis and Kutcher both stepped down as board members of Thorn during the ongoing controversy.
The unsavory support of abusers within big industries like film or music is nothing new. Kunis and Kutcher are some of the many celebrities that have stood by and continued to work with those who have been accused, sued and even imprisoned for sexual assault and rape. In Kunis and Kutcher’s case specifically, they push forward a popular notion within rape culture that “good” men don’t rape. In highlighting the supposed innate “goodness” that Masterson possesses and continuously discussing his “good” deeds, Kunis and Kutcher are clearly trying to clarify that Masterson is a morally good person in an attempt to undermine the victims’ testimonies that he is a rapist because a rapist is a morally evil and despicable person. Kunis and Kutcher contradict their claims of supporting the victims with this notion.
Kurnis and Kutchers open support of Masterson has done nothing but promote rape apologism and rape culture as a whole. With such prominent figures coming out and defending him, it’s understandable why so many victims don’t come forward. Even after the #MeToo Movement, sexual harassment is still prevalent in Hollywood, with thousands of people in the entertainment industry anonymously saying they’ve been harassed in a recent survey by Annita Hill. Many victims don’t come forward out of fear they won’t be believed or they’ll be overshadowed by the accused’s powerful fellow celebrities who will support them and disregard the victims’ accusations. Although we’ve made progress in supporting victims of sexual assault and abuse when they come forward, there’s still so much work to be done in creating a space where those crimes are not excused and not tolerated.
Considering Masterson a “good” person who “doesn’t pose a threat to society” despite the pain and suffering he put his victims through is a gross belief system that perpetuates that abusers deserve sympathy just because they’ve been nice to certain people, when they in fact do not.