Stars Skipping Red Carpets to Avoid Sexual Harassment Questions

Deserted Red Carpet - Getty - H 2017
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In the wake of a steady stream of sexual harassment accusations involving major Hollywood players, suddenly the red carpet at premieres and industry events isn't all that welcoming.

On Tuesday, Sony Pictures, the studio behind director Ridley Scott's new film, All the Money in the World, canceled the Nov. 16 premiere — which was scheduled in the closing-night gala of AFI Fest, a high-profile event — due to concerns that the current allegations of sexual harassment surrounding the film's star, Kevin Spacey, would make it "inappropriate to celebrate at a gala at this difficult time," according to a statement from the studio.

The cancellation of the premiere certainly guarantees that the cast and crew of the film, which is still slated to hit theaters Dec. 22, will be spared an inevitable and potentially uncomfortable stream of Spacey-centric sexual conduct-related questions along the red carpet. It also marks the first major event casualty at a moment where the typically easy, breezy arrival Q&As have taken a turn for the serious. Big-name talent is increasingly scurrying into events without stopping for interviews in a bid to avoid on-the-record comments about the trickiest conversation in Hollywood.

Since the first allegations against studio head Harvey Weinstein were made public in early October, there's been a gradual chilling effect on typically cheery arrivals for many premieres, awards ceremonies, charity functions, galas and other industry events. At first, despite an initial wariness and reticence, A-listers at events entertained — and some even welcomed — questions regarding their own experiences with Weinstein in particular and sexual harassment within the business in general.

"I went to the Elle Women in Hollywood event [Oct. 17] and every woman I spoke to on that carpet told me a story — a very specific story — about something that had happened, and they were open; they wanted to talk about it," said one seasoned reporter who covers events for a variety of outlets with various editorial interests, all of which quickly focused on the Weinstein news. "I think at that point, there was a feeling that there was the onus on them to not stay quiet, that they owed it to other women to speak out … a feeling of if you keep quiet then you're colluding with it."

But it wasn't long before silence crept back in.

As the most routinely softball outlets began adding sexual harassment questions into their three-minute chats with celebrities, talent — and their publicity handlers — began to pull back, bypassing the press altogether. At the Hammer Museum Gala on Oct. 14, the majority of the celebrity guests — including several actresses who'd been outspoken about the topic on social media — avoided interviews. However, actress Selma Blair shared her story of harassment with reporters who asked, and honoree Ava DuVernay praised men in the industry who didn't leverage their power for despicable ends in her acceptance speech — a feat the filmmaker repeated and expanded on at the Britannia Awards on Oct. 27, where she was notably the only person to speak of harassment onstage. And at the amfAR Gala on Oct. 13, host James Corden's anti-Weinstein jokes were met with as many groans as laughs.

As more significant industry figures, including Spacey and filmmaker-financier Brett Ratner, came under scrutiny, those red carpet Q&As became fleeting and public commentary evaporated. At last week's Women in Entertainment Summit on Nov. 2, a seemingly fitting forum to address the topic, sexual harassment was referenced only elliptically throughout the day. At the Hollywood Film Awards on Nov. 5, Corden avoided joking about the subject in his monologue, many major stars in attendance, such as Kate Winslet, being honored for her work in Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel, skipped the arrivals line. And Dustin Hoffman's onstage appearance, in the midst of his own sexual harassment allegations from decades ago, occurred without comment, other than some murmurs in the audience.

"When the second wave of scandals came out, that's when it changed to 'We don't have to talk about this because it will be all we end up talking about," said the red carpet reporter. "I definitely think Kevin Spacey was the story that made it reach its critical mass."

"I remember at amfAR Gala there was one celebrity who was just openly talking about [harassment], and then one wrong question, it just hit a button," said journalist and blogger Taylor Ferber, who routinely reports on red carpets for outlets such as Us Weekly and Bustle. "She was pissed, ended the interview and stormed off. Instances like that gave me anxiety [as a reporter] because I was like, 'What's the line here?'"

"I think it's going to be a struggle [going forward]," Ferber added, noting that even when stars are open to discuss the topic, "the challenge is getting something that isn't canned, that isn't prepared and that does feel a little more personal."

The keeping mum trend picked up. "It's better to lay low than to make yourself a target, even if you're trying to do the right thing," offered one veteran publicity executive, who noted that speaking out against a more distantly related Hollywood figure could become complicated if the next round of high-profile accusations is aimed at your own co-star, director, agent, etc. The exec cited fashion designer Donna Karan, whose on-camera red carpet comments in defense of Weinstein came under immediate fire, prompting her first to claim she was quoted out of context and then, with video evidence against her, to retract her statement. "She was trying to be protective," said the PR exec, "but obviously that didn't work out very well."

Several people interviewed for this story pointed to actress Uma Thurman (a veteran of seven Weinstein films) as a unique example of candor and prudence during her red carpet appearance at the premiere of her stage production The Parisian Woman. "I don't have a tidy soundbite for you," Thurman said to Access Hollywood in a measured tone, adding "I've learned that when I've spoke in anger, I usually regret the way I express myself. So I've been waiting to feel less angry, and when I'm ready, I'll say what I have to say."

"Once you get past saying, 'Well, it's about time,' what else do you say?" said Allan Mayer, co-chief executive officer of the public relations firm 42West and an acknowledged industry crisis specialist. "I think a lot of folks on the red carpet don't want to be forced to come up with some clever soundbite that they'll later regret the next day."

"Why put yourself in a position where you could wind up looking either foolish or just overwhelmed?" added Mayer, who admits that spontaneity is one of the best, if more nerve-racking, attributes of red carpet interviews. "It's not simply a case of being able to have something wise or compassionate to say about the situation, but in a lot of cases, particularly actresses, they have their own experiences that they have to figure out: 'How open do I want to be? Am I ready to start talking about it in a way that I never have before?' You can't expect people to make decisions like that overnight."

What then does the future hold for the red carpet tradition, particularly as the industry heads into the typically event-overloaded awards cycle?

"I don't think that people are just going to avoid red carpets forever. I just think it's a temporary phenomenon," suggested Mayer. "I think, just for the time being, people are cooling it."

But with the incoming accusations, the climate is precarious, to say the least. "It depends on how many more shoes drop. There are probably still a lot more shoes to drop, but I think we're talking about a matter of weeks, maybe a month or so," Mayer predicted. "We'll get into the holiday season, a lot of new movies opening, awards season really will get into high gear and people will be out there."