MTV announced Thursday that it has halted production on Catfish, the MTV series co-hosted by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, due to sexual misconduct allegations against Schulman by Ayissha Morgan, a woman who appeared on the series in 2015.
On May 12, Morgan posted a YouTube video where she alleged that Schulman harassed her during the production of her episode. Morgan, a lesbian, said Schulman (referred to by pseudonym “Jack” in the video) kept pushing her to reevaluate her sexuality so she would sleep with him. Two days later, Morgan posted another video alleging that a female production assistant got her drunk and took advantage of her. Morgan says she was subsequently invited to Schulman’s room, where he propositioned her again.
Schulman has denied the claims via his publicist, issuing the following statement: “The behavior described in this video did not happen and I’m fortunate that there are a number of former colleagues who were present during this time period who are willing to speak up with the truth. I have always been transparent about my life and would always take responsibility for my actions—but these claims are false.” Regardless, MTV has halted production until they can conduct their own investigation. In a statement sent to The Daily Beast, an MTV spokesperson said, “We take these allegations very seriously. We’re working with Critical Content, our third party production company, to conduct a thorough investigation, and we’ve put a pause on shooting until the investigation is completed."
It’s commendable of MTV to halt production (full disclosure, I worked at MTV News in 2016), but one has to assume that the Time’s Up initiative and #MeToo movement contributed to this, particularly since it’s hardly the first instance of alleged assault from Schulman. In 2014, Schulman came under fire for having punched a woman in the face while attending Sarah Lawrence College. Tweets came in from former classmates after Schulman posted a selfie of himself in an elevator to comment on former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident (which took place in an elevator). Schulman tweeted, “Cowards make me sick. Real men show strength through patience & honor. This elevator is abuse free. #RESPECT.”
Schulman confirmed the rumors of his Sarah Lawrence assault in his memoir, In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age. Of the incident at Sarah Lawrence, he wrote, “I decided to photograph the school’s annual Sleaze Ball, a night of debauchery, drugs, and girls dressed primarily in lingerie. While I was photographing, an individual who didn’t like that I was taking pictures attempted to tackle me and smash my camera on the ground. Since the camera was attached to a strap around my neck, I found myself in a very unpleasant situation, much like a dog with a choke collar. In an effort to free myself, I punched the person and ran off; when I returned minutes later, I discovered that the short, stocky, crew-cut-styled individual that I’d fought with was a woman—a fact I hadn’t been aware of in the heat of the moment. The next thing I knew, I’d been arrested. The case was dismissed almost immediately, but Sarah Lawrence took the opportunity to toss me out once and for all.”
But according to the woman, Schulman punched her repeatedly and his account is false. She confirmed to Vulture that she posted about the incident on Facebook the day after it happened and that, “To be quite clear, Schulman’s account of the events of that night is as suspect as all his other endeavors. I attended the dance he mentions and saw that he was taking pictures of queer couples dancing and kissing without their permission. I talked to the Student Affairs liaison at the event, who I knew from my work study job, but nothing was done about it. I confronted him, and asked him to stop taking pictures. I didn’t tackle him and I certainly didn’t choke him with his camera strap. I tapped his shoulder and he turned and hit me out of nowhere, I went down and he held me in a head lock and repeatedly punched me while I tried to get free. The impact broke my glasses and the rest of the night was a blur. I got off the floor, talked to police, then went home to sleep. When I woke up the next day, my face was bruised, I was hurt, and a friend urged me to go to the hospital, which I did. From the hospital, I was directed to legal services and received legal advice. I was advised not to press charges because it would be a difficult case to win, as I didn’t have any broken bones and it would be his word against mine. I also felt intimidated because his lawyer had been waiting for me in the parking lot after my legal meeting. I didn’t talk to him but it was clear that Nev’s family had the means to drag me through a lengthy court case. As an LBGT financial aid student I didn’t think the chance of getting justice looked good.”
Schulman's admittance to assault in his memoir was a blip to MTV, which did not halt production of Catfish after the story was released. Since then, he’s been combative with reporters and on social media. Two years ago, he caused another controversy during an airing of BET’s Black Girls Rock! by tweeting, “#BlackGirlsRock I totally agree. They also tend to #catfish a lot. Just sayin’.”
The mildly racist remark about his own show, where he purports to be a sensitive host who cares about the emotions of those being catfished and those who are catfishing out of fear and hurt emotions, spelled out Schulman’s hypocrisy to some. Did he truly care about the people on Catfish or was he just using black women for his personal gain while secretly mocking them?
The same could be asked of his overdramatic tweet about Rice, sent despite his own past assault of a woman. As MTV begins their investigation, they’ll seek to find out if this is a pattern with Schulman: if he hides nefarious behavior behind his affable host personality. If so, Morgan’s account may very well be true and there may be other stories about him waiting to be told.