Bryan Singer: The Epitome of Hollywood’s White Male Privilege Problem

The director, who was fired from the Freddie Mercury biopic, has reportedly exhibited unprofessional behavior for years, from hard-partying to sexual-assault allegations.


Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

When Jessica Chastain tweeted, “Let us not forget,” before linking to an article about Bryan Singer’s past sexual-assault allegations, who could’ve imagined that he’d soon be fired for a completely unrelated offense?

On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Singer has been fired from directing the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek. It comes following reports of repeated absences from the set, which were explained away as “a personal health matter” and “unexpected availability,” according to different outlets.

Whatever the real reason, Singer hadn’t returned to the set since Thanksgiving, which led to his dismissal from the film. However, THR revealed today that there was far more drama on the set than unplanned absences. After Malek complained to the studio of Singer’s absence on set, they reportedly had a confrontation in which Singer threw an object at him. Amidst this, the actor Tom Hollander is alleged to have quit the production and had to be persuaded to return. During Singer’s sabbatical, cinematographer Thomas Newton Sigel directed to keep the film on schedule.

If you want an egregious example of the type of privilege afforded to white men in Hollywood, look no further than Singer’s career. Instances like this on set would get almost anyone fired, but this isn’t even the first time Singer has been unreliable and unprofessional on set.

THR reports that he pulled similar disappearing acts from the sets of X-Men: Apocalypse and Superman Returns, and there have long been rumors of strife with actors on the sets of his X-Men films. Most famously, there was the time Halle Berry allegedly got into a fight with Singer and told him to “kiss [her] black ass” on the set of X2. During an interview with Empire, Singer laughed it off and said the quote was actually, “You can watch my black ass while I walk out of here,” but insisted that he and Berry are fine now. For what it’s worth, she did return to work with him on X-Men: Days of Future Past. But given her current slate of B-movie grindhouse flicks like The Call and Kidnap, perhaps Berry wasn’t in the position to turn down a superhero paycheck.

There was a PlayStation set up, and a blond twink in a tank top who looked like he was 16 was sitting on the floor alone eating fried chicken straight from a KFC bucket. More white twinks showed up. I felt old and gross, so I left.
A Hollywood screenwriter on Singer's ‘Superman Returns’ after-party

If Berry indeed had problems with Singer yet swallowed her pride to work with him again, it’s a testament to how the industry allows bad behavior by men to go unchecked—particularly powerful men like Singer. Earlier this year, The Wrap reported that Fox was one of two Hollywood studios that have no female-directed movies scheduled through the next year. Not only that, but the studio hadn’t released a film from a female director since Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum’s Ramona and Beezus in 2010. It’s hard enough for women and directors of color to get a foot in the door, and it’s impossible to believe that any could get away with the flagrant chaos Singer brings to his sets.

And though Singer has denied the sexual-assault allegations that continue to pop up in the news, their existence has sowed distrust among actors who would likely never work with him in the future. Aside from the aforementioned Chastain tweet, other actors like Evan Rachel Wood have tweeted, “Yeah, let’s not forget Brian [sic] Singer either.” Furthermore, the allegations themselves often make headlines, causing Singer to withdraw from public events where he’s expected to promote his films. He dropped out of all press for X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014 amidst a lawsuit that was later withdrawn by the accusers. In 1998, his film Apt Pupil generated controversy due to a lawsuit alleging that he made a group of underage boys shower in the nude on film.

This week, Gabriel Byrne shared a disturbing story about the making of Singer’s 1995 film The Usual Suspects. Byrne told The Sunday Times that filming shut down due to “inappropriate sexual behavior” on the part of its lead actor, Kevin Spacey.

Spacey’s long history of alleged sexual abuse against minors has now been made public, but if his improper behavior was enough to shut down one of Singer’s sets, it’s incredibly reckless of Singer to have worked with him again a decade later on Superman Returns. It calls into question Singer’s judgment as a director, given that he knowingly put a film in danger just to work with Spacey again.

Then again, THR reported in 2014 that Singer brought his own brand of messiness to Superman Returns: “Executives who have worked on his movies say the director was sometimes erratic, often complaining he was in pain, at times appearing ‘heavily medicated’ and sometimes failing to appear on set. But it seems only on Singer’s 2006 Warner Bros. film Superman Returns did these issues contribute to budget overages. There were widespread rumors that Singer’s partying was part of the problem, but a friend who visited the set says that was not the issue. ‘There were times that production was interrupted or delayed,’ says this person, but the problem was Singer ‘battling his own demons’ with respect to medication.”

Singer’s unprofessionalism aside, he still managed to throw a lavish afterparty once the film was completed. According to BuzzFeed, “a gay screenwriter in his thirties working his way through the film industry landed an invitation to the afterparty for the Los Angeles premiere of director Bryan Singer’s film Superman Returns. ‘It started at like 1 a.m. It was super crowded. Someone told me to stick around as late as I could because after most of the guests leave, the scene in the pool ‘gets freaky.’ There were a lot of twinks inside, just hanging out, and all of them were white. I wandered into what seemed like a screening room or TV room. There was a PlayStation set up, and a blond twink in a tank top who looked like he was 16 was sitting on the floor alone eating fried chicken straight from a KFC bucket. More white twinks showed up. I felt old and gross, so I left.”

Who, after all, doesn’t love a bacchanal to celebrate all the work you didn’t do on your latest film?

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Fox, meanwhile, was fully aware of what they were getting by hiring him. According to THR, “Singer had been warned before production began by both Fox Film Chairman and CEO Stacey Snider and Fox Film Vice Chairman and President of Production Emma Watts that they wouldn’t tolerate any unprofessional behavior on his part. A representative from the Directors Guild of America also arrived on set to monitor the situation.”

The #MeToo movement in Hollywood has seen the ouster of accused sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, yes, but it also aims to expose a system that continuously rewards men who time and again prove to be wildly unprofessional. I’m reminded of comments like those from Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, who, when asked why there are no female directors in the Star Wars universe, told Variety, “We want to make sure that when we bring a female director in to do ‘Star Wars,’ they’re set up for success. They’re gigantic films, and you can’t come into them with essentially no experience. We want to really start to focus in on people we would love to work with and see what kinds of things they’re doing to progress up that ladder now, and then pull them in when the time is right.”

This year, Kennedy has fired multiple white male directors who weren’t up to snuff. Maybe Hollywood should spend a little less time trying to “set up” women and directors of color for this “success,” and stop coddling men like Singer who bring nothing to the table but the stench of vodka from last night’s afterparty.