The Oscars red carpet, once arguably the slightest and most inane part of awards season, has suddenly become the most dramatic.
When Variety published a story Monday detailing an ex-stylist’s claims that Ryan Seacrest allegedly abused her, one of the immediate reactions—outside of horror, disgust, frustration, and, yes, even tinges of skepticism—was how this would affect Seacrest’s status as the most high profile stop on the Oscars red carpet.
According to Suzie Hardy, Seacrest’s former stylist, the TV personality and media mogul subjected her to years of sexual abuse and harassment, including “grinding his erect penis against her while clad only in his underwear, groping her vagina, and at one point slapping her buttock so hard that it left a large welt still visible hours later.” Seacrest denied the allegations, his lawyer alleged that Hardy was extorting him, and E! released a statement saying it launched an investigation into Hardy’s claims and found insufficient evidence to confirm them.
E! confirmed Tuesday that Seacrest would still host the network’s red carpet pre-show on Sunday.
Barely 12 hours later, another former co-worker of Hardy’s told NBC News that he witnessed Seacrest’s alleged harassment: “She would go to tie his shoe and Ryan would shove her head toward his crotch. I saw that more than once.”
More, Page Six is reporting that publicists are encouraging their clients to avoid Seacrest entirely on the red carpet, should he remain E!’s host. Which he shouldn’t. It’s time to fire Ryan Seacrest from the Oscars red carpet.
Without making any ruling on the veracity of either party’s claims—we couldn’t presume to do so—having Seacrest on the red carpet Sunday night is a misjudgment that does far worse than tee up a PR catastrophe for the E! network. It is an act of tone-deafness that doubles as an act of aggression on the women and stars who are put in the awkward and unfair position of weighing whether to make a political statement, or even judgement of guilt, by snubbing Seacrest.
The optics of him keeping his position is borderline insane.
Sunday’s ceremony comes at the end of an award season defined by the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up campaign. The resounding message has been that enough is enough when it comes to the lack of consequences for the predatory behavior and sexual misconduct of Hollywood’s power players. It also has very much been about ending the kind of power dynamic that forces women into compromising positions, otherwise risking professional repercussions.
There is such inherent hypocrisy, after championing the message these women have been preaching these last months, to force them directly into one such compromising position: confront the accusations against one of Hollywood’s most powerful and influential men, or (and again without ruling on his guilt) seem to dismiss or condone the allegations by being interviewed by him.
We’ve already witnessed just how impossible all this for the celebrities.
Scandal star Bellamy Young was asked a leading question Monday night at the premiere of A Wrinkle in Time about whether Seacrest should step aside from the red carpet in the wake of the allegations against him. She said yes, in a perfectly reasoned, perfectly woke answer: “I think this is the time to step aside and let someone of equal talent that is beyond reproach to be in charge.”
It’s unclear if by her own volition, or under pressure from concerned flacks worried that she may have put herself in poor favor with those in Seacrest’s large orbit, but Young issued an apology the next day. “I apologize to Ryan Seacrest. He has been exonerated from the allegations I was told about on the carpet, so my opinion is different now,” she said in a statement.
Suddenly someone else’s scandal became her own, which has been the case time and again over these last months as we have put these actors on the spot to speak for, against, on behalf of, or in condemnation of a spectrum of Bad Men’s bad behavior. The sound bite becomes the headline that births the think piece. And all after a 30-second exchange an actor had with an interviewer on a red carpet.
This may be a slight tangent, but Allison Janney and Anna Faris made a great point about this during a bit on Faris’ Unqualified podcast this week, on which Janney was a guest. They mocked the high-pressure, wildly unpredictable nature of red carpet interviews during a role-playing exercise in which Faris played an entertainment journalist grilling Janney on everything from who she was wearing, what research she did on her character, whether she’s been sexually harassed, and if she thinks there was collusion with Russia.
The lunacy of the breadth of questions was the point of the comedy bit, but there was a harsh truth to all of it. Especially now, we’ve set up these gotcha traps for these actors to talk their ways into. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that red carpet has taken on weightier subject matter this year. But it was inevitable that the evolution would be problematic as well.
Seacrest, ironically, has always been the best of the myriad red carpet hosts in balancing the frivolity of the fashion and pageantry with more meaningful questions. At least he was the interviewer least likely to induce whiplash when following up questions about mani-pedis with what it means to be a woman at this time in our country.
And, along with his power, he has many, many friends in the industry. People really like the guy. Maybe that’s exactly what E! is banking on, that his wide net of friends wouldn’t embarrass him on Sunday by slighting him. But as the showing of support for Catt Sadler at the Golden Globes proved, that might not be the best gamble for the network to make.
E! is part of the NBC Universal umbrella of networks. It is the same umbrella of networks that wouldn’t run Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein investigation, sending him to The New Yorker. That sat on the notorious Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape. That fostered an unsafe working environment in order to placate Matt Lauer.
Maybe for once it could get things right.