Updated 5:50pm EST
The casting couch is as old as Hollywood itself. Ever since there have been aspiring actors eager for a chance to break into the business, there have been powerful producers and directors offering opportunity and access in exchange for sexual favors. But in the wake of accusations that X-Men director Bryan Singer sexually abused underage boys, there’s a re-examination now going on in Hollywood of exploitation in all its forms. Some of it concerns the alleged abuse of minors, but the scandal has also thrown a spotlight on the places where the line between Hollywood networking and the casting couch is sometimes blurry, if not obscured altogether.
In a lawsuit filed May 3, a British man identified only as "John Doe No. 117" says that when he was 16, he had sex with Broadway producer Gary Goddard and that Goddard later lured him to a London hotel suite where he was sexually abused by Singer. In a press conference held Monday in Los Angeles, Jeff Herman, a lawyer for the alleged victim, outlined the case and presented what he said was evidence linking the alleged victim to Goddard and Singer. Herman showed members of the media an email, a handwritten note and several photographs that he said support his client's claims that he traveled to London to attend the 2006 premiere of Superman Returns, which Singer directed, and was forced to have sexual contact with Singer later that night.
These allegations follow a lawsuit filed in April by a man named Michael Egan, in which the now 31-year-old accuses Singer of sexually assaulting and raping him in the late 1990s. Egan, also represented by Herman, has also filed a lawsuit against Goddard and several other men connected to Singer. Singer and others named in the lawsuits have strenuously denied all the allegations.
Although it could be years before the full truth of the allegations is known—if ever—the scandal has exposed a dark side of Hollywood, a town where children and young adults come in search of stardom and where some find themselves exploited in their quests for fame. Corey Feldman, who rose to stardom in the 1980s as a child actor in movies such as Stand by Me and The Goonies, has said pedophilia is “the number-one problem in Hollywood.” He published a memoir in 2013 documenting sexual abuse he said he and the late actor Corey Haim suffered at the hands of powerful men in the movie business.
Singer's British accuser, now 25, says he was assaulted at an after after-party for a movie premiere, while Egan says the abuse he suffered as a minor began when he attended parties frequented by the director. The ensuing scandal has prompted a spate of fresh reporting about a party scene involving hordes of barely legal young men and some powerful gay men in Hollywood, reportedly including Singer. According to dispatches by Defamer, Buzzfeed and others, this party scene has gone on for years. While sexual encounters and relationships between older and younger men are not necessarily illegal, reports of Singer, 48, hosting parties primarily attended by men in their late teens and early 20s has led to accusations the director was exploiting young men who simply wanted to break into the movie business.
“This is not official Hollywood,” says Paul Petersen, a former child actor and founder of A Minor Consideration, an organization that advocates for the rights of child actors. “The people who are being exploited the worst are on the periphery. They are not young union members who have worked and have gone through the process of breaking into the business. This is the wannabes.”
Petersen says leaders in most other industries, including politics, would see their careers crippled or destroyed if they were publicly revealed to be regularly hosting parties filled with revelers half their age. Yet in Hollywood, he says, such goings-on are accepted and celebrated as expressions of sexual freedom and even creativity. Powerful producers, moguls and directors “consider themselves artists,” says Petersen, “and they don’t want their behaviors questioned.”
But the questioning, fair or not, will only get louder. Amy Berg, a documentarian, is at work on a film that will reportedly examine the accusations against Singer as well as alleged sex rings in Hollywood. Speaking to The Wrap about the project, which is still in production, Berg called sex abuse in Hollywood "a huge problem."
It's pervasive…and the time to explore it is now," she said. "It's much bigger than anything about the one case."
This piece was updated to include details from Monday's press conference.