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Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations, Hollywood Shelves Wave of Projects

In an apparent shift from decades past, the professional lives of power players have now been dramatically upended by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Image: Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein
Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Harvey WeinsteinAndrew H. Walker, Jordan Strauss, Christian Alminana / Getty Images, Invision/AP, Getty Images file

Fourteen years ago, Roman Polanski, the director accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, won his first Oscar for "The Pianist." Two years later, filmmaker Woody Allen, who has long denied allegations of sexual abuse, revitalized his artistic reputation with the acclaimed "Match Point." And last year, actor Mel Gibson, who was scorned for a 2006 anti-Semitic tirade, returned to critical glory with the Oscar-nominated "Hacksaw Ridge."

The lesson in the entertainment industry seemed clear: You could continue to win awards, accolades and rave reviews even if your personal life was shrouded in controversy and scandal.

But that may be changing.

The professional lives of a seemingly endless list of A-list power players — from Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein to "Rush Hour" director Brett Ratner — have been dramatically upended this year by allegations of sexual misconduct. In the stunning fallout, top-tier studios and publishers have cut ties with the accused, canceling upcoming projects or shelving completed works.

And in a rare move, Kevin Spacey, who faces several allegations of sexual assault, will be removed from the completed Ridley Scott thriller "All the Money in the World," due in theaters next month. Oscar-winning actor Christopher Plummer will replace him.

"The dam is broken. ... When these stories keep going on an almost daily basis, the industry cannot ignore what seems to be a systemic problem," said Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

"An extreme response seems to be the only option," Thompson added.

In recent weeks, explosive reports of sexual harassment and assault have been followed by swift action from major institutions:

  • Louis CK: "I Love You, Daddy," a comedy co-written and directed by Louis CK, was shelved by its owned distributor Friday. (The controversial black-and-white film starred the Emmy-winning comedian as a television producer whose 17-year-old daughter becomes involved with a 68-year-old filmmaker.) Netflix announced it would cancel production on a Louis CK stand-up special. HBO said it would pull his earlier work from its on-demand platforms. FX, the cable network that airs his sitcom "Louie," said it was ending its association with him and canceling its deal with his production company.
  • Mark Halperin: Penguin Press last month said it would ditch a book about the 2016 election co-written by Mark Halperin, the political personality behind bestsellers like "Game Change" and "Double Down." HBO, which produced a made-for-TV movie adapted from "Game Change," said it would not go forward on plans to turn the untitled new book into a film. NBC News has also severed its relationship with Halperin, who had been a senior political analyst for the network.
  • Kevin Spacey: Sony plans to excise Spacey from "All the Money in the World," a ripped-from-the-headlines drama in which the Oscar-winning actor had a supporting role as the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Netflix said it was cutting ties with Spacey, the star of its popular political drama "House of Cards," and shelving "Gore," a completed movie about writer Gore Vidal starring and co-produced by the actor. (CNN estimates that the end of "House of Cards" could eliminate some 2,000 jobs.)
  • Harvey Weinstein: The onetime industry kingmaker was fired from The Weinstein Company, the specialty distributor he co-founded with his brother, Bob. The future of the company remains unclear. "The Current War," a period film that had been slated for release in December, during the height of the Oscar season, has been pushed to 2018.

The tidal wave of project cancellations may be unprecedented, but the film industry has on occasion abandoned problematic movies. B-movie legend Roger Corman produced a low-budget adaptation of Marvel's "The Fantastic Four" in 1994, but the reputedly terrible final product never saw the light of day.

Thompson, the Syracuse pop culture professor, said he wondered what would become of "I Love You, Daddy" and "Gore."

"It's interesting to speculate on their future," Thompson said. "They're not going to burn the negative. At one point, will they be released purely as sociological phenomena?"

Perhaps the most famous shelved film of all time is "The Day the Clown Cried," an unconventional drama from the late comedian Jerry Lewis about a circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. Lewis, deeply ashamed of the work, kept the print under lock and key for decades. He ultimately donated the film negative to the Library of Congress — reportedly on the condition that the library would not screen it until 2024.