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The year of sex scandals

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MUMBAI: The year 2017 will be known for the open-to-the-public-eye exposure of the dark underbelly of the media and entertainment industry. And it did not happen just in Hollywood or in American prime-time news -- the Indian entertainment ecosystem was not sequestered from it.

No, no not all. Skeletons spilled out of the closet as allegations were hurled at TV hosts, journalists, on-screen talent, creative and business icons that they could not keep a check on their excessive libido and lust and keep their pants and zippers up. Accusations of sexual molestation and abuse saw them fall from grace.

Several of them faced the axe. Some issued denials and protested their innocence. Some of them admitted to the excesses and misuse of their positions and apologised -- their organisations stated that they were bringing in place processes to prevent recurrences.

Amongst the major scandals that hit media-dom and entertainment-dom include:

The Viral Fever gets a virus

The Viral Fever’s (TVF) Arunabh Kumar had become a darling of the new-age digital content generation. Almost everything he touched on behalf of brand partners was lapped up by millions who had been starved for content for too long.

And then an anonymous post was made by a woman online. In it, she alleged that Kumar had preyed on her. His company pooh-poohed the post, saying it was put up to discredit TVF. More women surfaced to complain. The denials continued and the same digital generation that swore by him came out in hordes and trolled and slammed his behaviour on various social outlets.

A video production executive filed a first information report (FIR). Another FIR followed. The police swooped in, Kumar was questioned several times, and he was arrested and released on bail immediately. Under pressure from investors, the company decided to let go of Kumar, who, in his parting post, said that TVF was bigger than any individual.

Shilpa Shinde’s long running feud

Actor Shilpa Shinde—who is stealing the limelight on Colors’ happening show Bigg Boss—had been feuding with her Bhabhiji Ghar Par Hai producer Sanjay and Benaifer Kohli about an exclusivity clause for over a year that prevented her from taking up other assignments and the mental harassment it caused her. Benaifer Kohli, on her part, had highlighted Shinde’s unprofessional behaviour, which included throwing tantrums, leaving the show mid-way and also demanding a higher per-day fee. The channel supported Kohli and Shinde was let go. Both filed suits against each other; the Kohlis wanted Shinde to cough up Rs 12.5 crore for losses caused to them on account of her walking out; Shinde wanted Rs 32 lakh for alleged back payments not made.

Shilpa approached the actors’ union, which did not support her. All was quiet while the two fought a legal battle behind the scenes.

And then in March Shinde shocked the world by alleging that Sanjay Kohli had touched her inappropriately and even made suggestive statements to her. She filed an FIR while the couple filed a defamation suit. The husband-wife duo denied the allegations outright and questioned her motives having taken so long to hurl such accusations.

Somehow, Shinde stopped mouthing the charges, the controversy seemed to have lost steam—probably, it did not have too much of it in the first place—and she then moved on to reality show Bigg Boss.

Were her charges real? Or was she just gathering enough of a bad girl and controversial reputation to push her candidature and be considered for selection to the Bigg Boss house?

These are questions to which answers will emerge when she emerges from the Big Boss house. But, for the Kohlis, it left an extremely bad taste in the mouth.

Harvey Weinstein: A giant collapses

Harvey Weinstein probably did not know what hit him. One morning, he was the toast of Hollywood–an Oscar-winning producer of the Weinstein Co and the next he was consigned to being a bad memory everyone wanted to forget. Almost 50 actors, and some of them top-notch A graders --- right from Rose McGowan Gwyneth Paltrow to Angelina Jolie to Selma Hayek to Ashley Judd to Kate Beckinsale to Annabella Sciorra to Darryl Hannah --- came out and alleged that Weinstein had made passes or propositioned them for sex or groped them or even raped them. He denied all allegations and initially announced he would sue The New York Times, which first broke the story.

The furore against him grew. The greater his denials, the more Hollywood women stepped forward to reveal the violations that were made into their personal spaces by somebody they once revered like the almighty.

As the scandal continued to grow, he was evicted from the board of the company he cofounded with his brother, from the Producers’ Guild of America, he was stripped of his membership to the BAFTAs, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, and then his lawyer and later his wife left him.

What next, only time will tell. But his image has been tarnished forever.

Weinstein continues to insist that most of the acts he was accused to have been involved in were consensual and that he unequivocally denies any allegation of rape.

The amazing downfall of Amazon’s Roy Price

He had close to $4.5 billion dollars to spend every year on content for Amazon’s video play. But Roy Price paid the price for allegedly giving in to his lusty nature and repeatedly propositioning Isa Dick Hackett, an executive producer of the popular Amazon show The Man in the High Castle in 2015. Within hours of her disclosures to The Hollywood Reporter, Price was told to carry his personal belongings and leave Amazon Studios forever. He had joined Amazon in 2004 and oversaw the launch of its digital video store and then its video streaming unit, Amazon Prime.

Price was also allegedly linked to the Weinstein scandal when Rose McGowan, who first blew the whistle on Harvey, reached out to Jeff Bezos on Twitter telling him that she had told the head of Amazon Studios that the former had raped her. And before that she had also directed a message on Twitter at Price stating: “Remember when I told you not to do a deal with him and why?”

Post his departure, Amazon also undid a few deals that the streaming site had signed with the Weinstein Co. They ran into tens of millions of dollars. Many say that the price both paid was not enough.

Pixar’s Lasseter: Animation's poster boy goes down

Pixar’s John Lasseter was not kidding around when he announced that he was taking a leave of absence after confessing to certain missteps when building the company that is a part of Disney and has produced classics such as Toy Story.

He was the poster boy of the animation industry, renowned as a creative genius who entertained hundreds of millions of kids the world over with Pixar’s 3D CGI movies.

Then news began to trickle out about his alleged hugging and kissing and passing lewd remarks at women at Disney and Pixar and placing his hands on their knees and legs.

In response, Lasseter sincerely apologised in his sabbatical announcement memo. “I especially want to apologise to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve,” he said.

With the Lasseter myth busted, his six-month leave might extend beyond that period considering the growing number of sexual harassment scandals that are hitting the limelight and the growing public outcry against them.

Den of Vice

The Shane Smith-headed firm has been living up to its name. It apparently is a den of vices with charges being filed against senior male executives who preyed on women employees and even bought off their silence in a few cases.

This was revealed following an investigation by The New York Times, which stated in its report that more than two dozen women–mostly in their twenties and thirties–had been groped, kissed, and had advances made on them by males ranging in the ages of twenties to forties.

Vice Media settled four cases of sexual transgressions or defamation against employees, including the current president Andrew Creighton, by making hefty payments. The latter had been accused by a woman executive of propositioning her for sex; he apparently bought her silence for $135,000. Vice, however, stated that the woman had initiated and pursued a sexual relationship with Creighton.

Jason Mojica–an executive who led Vice’s documentary film units–was accused by two women of sexual abuse. Former Vice journo Abby Ellis disclosed that in 2013 he tried to kiss her against her will and she beat him off with an umbrella several times. Then Helen Donahue, a former employee, said that he groped her breasts and buttocks at a holiday party in 2015.

Vice has since fired Mojica and another two employees, has brought in a new HR head, created a diversity and inclusion board, which includes social activist Gloria Steinem, and issued a ban on supervisors dating juniors.

Both Vice founders, Smith and Suroosh Alvi, have admitted that there were problems at the $6 billion valued media firm. “From the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive,” they said in a statement.

There are many other media executives who have been blamed or implicated in scandals throughout 2017. Amongst these include:  Netflix House of Cards star Kevin Spacey and comic Louis CK, NBC TV journalist Matt Lauer, ABC TV journo Mark Halperin, Def Jam founder Russel Simmons, television host Charlie Rose, and director Brett Ratner. Even documentary maker Morgan Spurlock vlountarily disclosed that he had two questionable encounters with women and resigned from his firm. Probably to preempt any shaming that may have hit him had he not. According to a Time magazine report, the figure runs into hundreds.

According to a Time magazine report, the allegations of sexual misconduct by people in positions of power in the media and entertainment ecosystem run into hundreds in the US. India, however, had just two pretty prominent ones in 2017. Hopefully, their tribe will not increase in 2018 and thereafter.

Also Read:

The year the telecom sector quaked

The year of big switch in sports broadcasting

Kids genre grows on TV despite digital onslaught

Guest column: Taking Indian content to the global market

Guest Column: How 2018 could become a landmark year for OTT entertainment in India

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