Hollywood’s Male #MeToo Stigma and the Fear of Coming Forward: “It’s Looked Upon as a Weakness”
The #MeToo movement has helped keep Hollywood figures accountable for their actions and behavior. Men who have their #MeToo stories share the stigma they face upon revealing their experiences with sexual misconduct.
Last fall, Johnathon Schaech was running out of options. After making a living as an actor for 30 years — 1996’s That Thing You Do! was his breakout — he was in danger of losing his SAG health insurance from lack of work, and he and his wife were trying to have a baby. Schaech, 50, had become something of an unwitting spokesman for male #MeToo victims in 2018 after he said Italian director Franco Zeffirelli had sexually assaulted him on the set of the movie Sparrow in 1993. (Before Zeffirelli died in June 2019, his son, Pippo, denied the allegations in People magazine.) In the aftermath of that disclosure, Schaech found his acting opportunities drying up, and he parted with his agency, APA, and manager, Risa Shapiro.
“I’ve never been so vulnerable in my life,” Schaech says. “Like, whoa, wait a minute. What did I just do?” Schaech was unsure if his newfound vulnerability was hurting his confidence as an actor or if he was being blacklisted for speaking out. “People were taking one side of the #MeToo movement or the other, like a friend of theirs was called out or a friend of theirs was affected,” he says. “They didn’t necessarily hear my story. They heard their story.” Schaech began reaching out to friends for help and secured a meeting with showrunner Greg Berlanti, for whom he had worked on The CW show Legends of Tomorrow. They spoke about parallels between the way gay people in Hollywood had historically been shunned after they came out and the way Schaech worried the industry might be treating him now. Berlanti re-hired Schaech, allowing the actor to retain his health insurance.
It was a small act of kindness during what has been a turbulent time for Schaech and for many men like him who were inspired by the mostly female-driven #MeToo movement. For entertainment industry men, as with women, sexual assaults and harassment have often come from powerful agents, executives and directors. But male accusers have often faced a different set of stigmas and questions than their female peers: Couldn’t a “real man” fend off another man? What does their experience say about their sexuality? Are they being homophobic or outing someone by going public? “If this happens to you as a man, it’s looked upon as a weakness,” Schaech says.
Among the first Hollywood men to counter that narrative was Brooklyn Nine-Nine star and former NFL player Terry Crews, who reached a settlement with WME in 2018 after alleging that Adam Venit, then head of the agency’s motion picture department, repeatedly grabbed his genitals at a 2016 industry party. In a string of tweets posted days after The New York Times and The New Yorker first ran stories on Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Crews detailed his alleged sexual assault. Venit apologized, was suspended and stripped of his title at WME and ultimately retired. Crews would go on to endure mockery, including from 50 Cent, who posted on Instagram that had he been the man assaulted, “they would have had to take me to jail.” Crews, who declined to comment for this piece, also was heralded for speaking out, including being named one of Time‘s 2017 people of the year (as part of a group of “silence breakers”). And he has continued to work steadily, including serving as a host on America’s Got Talent and keeping his role as a lieutenant on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is set to shoot its eighth season.
Crews’ tweets sparked a painful sense of recognition in another burly actor, 6-foot-3, 240-pound former college football player Michael Gaston, who has appeared in more than 20 films and on such TV dramas as The Sopranos and Prison Break. “Terry coming out with his story was like a lightning bolt,” says Gaston, who says he was assaulted by a powerful New York theater director in 1992. “When people think of me or they think of Terry, they’re like, ‘There’s no way that happened.’ If something like that could happen to some big guy, who you think would snap anybody who touched him in half, then what could happen to them?” Regular work for Gaston, too, has continued, including a recurring role on Starz’s Power, but the emotional ramifications “stirred up a bunch of stuff,” he says. “It fucked me up.”
Each industry man who has come forward with a #MeToo story has inspired another behind him. Alex Winter, who is best known for playing Bill in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and has predominantly spent the past decade directing documentaries, was moved by Anthony Rapp, who alleged in a 2017 BuzzFeed article that Kevin Spacey made an unwanted sexual advance toward him in 1986, when Rapp was 14, Spacey was 26 and both were working on Broadway; in response, Spacey tweeted that he did not remember the encounter but was “beyond horrified to hear his story” and apologized for “what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” More than a dozen other men have since accused Spacey of similar advances. “The way [Rapp] spoke about it was incredibly freeing for me,” says Winter, who revealed in a BBC interview in 2018 that he was molested by an older man at age 13 while on Broadway. “I was just like, ‘OK. Here’s a guy that went through something similar to what I went through and speaks about it very intelligently but still honestly.’ “
Winter has worked steadily since revealing his history, including reprising his signature role in Bill & Ted Face the Music, due Aug. 13 from United Artists, and directing a new documentary, Showbiz Kids, about child performers. Just as Rapp’s disclosure gave Winter the impetus to reveal his experiences, the actor-director has in turn heard from other men about theirs. “It was one little pebble in a stream that is now filled,” Winter says of his decision to speak publicly. “That’s what was so powerful about the phrase ‘Me Too.’ It’s not a grandiose statement. It doesn’t need to be. It’s just a fact of our history.”
This story first appeared in the June 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.