On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that, unbeknownst to the cast and crew of an upcoming blockbuster, they had been working alongside a registered sex offender.
The film, appropriately titled The Predator, is a Twentieth Century Fox project helmed by director Shane Black. The sci-fi reboot, which premiered Thursday night at the Toronto International Film Festival, stars Olivia Munn, Boyd Holbrook, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Trevante Rhodes and Keegan-Michael Key.
The man in question, actor and writer Steven Wilder Striegel, had a three-page scene with Olivia Munn in the film. When the actress learned of his past conviction, she proceeded to inform Fox. According to a Fox spokesperson, “Our studio was not aware of Mr. Striegel’s background when he was hired.” Striegel’s scene was promptly pulled from the film.
The Los Angeles Times report lays out the allegations that were made against Striegel in 2009, and the charges he pleaded guilty to. A March 2009 arrest warrant affidavit alleged physical contact between Striegel and a 14-year-old Jane Doe, detailing, “kissing, touching Doe’s breast over her clothing, rubbing her legs and stroking her neck.” But Streigel, who pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer, and spent six months in jail on the felony charges, insisted that any allegations of physical contact were “groundless.” He told the Los Angeles Times, “Nothing supported such a claim, and no charges in that regard were even filed. The only thing I was ever charged with were words in an email.”
The article continues, “In emails to The Times, Striegel described her as one of his ‘distant relatives’ who spoke to him at ‘several family gatherings’ about ‘a multitude of problems she was facing, including being a truant, being pressured to do drugs and alcohol, and that she had started having sex, as well as many other things.’
“In an attempt to boost her self-esteem, Striegel said he ‘made the very bad judgement call of telling her in these emails that she was attractive, and sexy, and not a failure, etc.’”
Excerpted emails written to Doe include admissions like, “EVERY thing you say turns me on!!” and “I love that it rocked you when I pulled your hair that time.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “In other correspondence, he described his sexual preferences in graphic detail, including his favorite intercourse position and intimate grooming practices.”
So how did a registered sex offender get cast alongside Olivia Munn in a big-budget picture? By being close friends with director Shane Black—who, unlike Fox, Munn, and her co-stars, was well aware of Striegel’s past. According to the Los Angeles Times, Striegel’s first role upon his release was in Black’s Iron Man 3. Black hired him again in 2016 for The Nice Guys, and told GQ all about his plans to produce a film “by my friend Steve Wilder.”
When asked for comment on Striegel’s casting, Black told the Los Angeles Times, “I personally chose to help a friend… I can understand others might disapprove, as his conviction was on a sensitive charge and not to be taken lightly.” He also shared his belief that Striegel was “caught up in a bad situation versus something lecherous.”
In her own statement, Olivia Munn revealed that she was surprised and unsettled “that Shane Black, our director, did not share this information to the cast, crew, or Fox Studios prior to, during, or after production.”
“However,” she added, “I am relieved that when Fox finally did receive the information, the studio took appropriate action by deleting the scene featuring Wilder prior to release of the film.”
In a later statement, Black added, “Having read this morning’s news reports, it has sadly become clear to me that I was misled by a friend I really wanted to believe was telling me the truth when he described the circumstances of his conviction. I believe strongly in giving people second chances—but sometimes you discover that chance is not as warranted as you may have hoped.”
“After learning more about the affidavit, transcripts and additional details surrounding Steve Striegel’s sentence, I am deeply disappointed in myself,” the director concluded. “I apologize to all of those, past and present, I’ve let down by having Steve around them without giving them a voice in the decision.”
But how was Steven Wilder Striegel able to sneak on set in plain sight? How can one man, singlehandedly, without properly briefing his studio, cast, or crew, professionally rehabilitate an old friend? Disturbingly enough, this is only the latest incident to illustrate the relative ease with which the entertainment industry welcomes sex offenders, and those who have been accused of preying on minors, back into the fold.
For a prime example, look no further than the two decades of allegations against Bryan Singer—allegations that have only recently begun to stick. An IndieWire timeline of accusations against Singer summarizes the director’s career as one that was marked both by box office success and “a long-term pattern of allegations ranging from unprofessional on-set behavior, to wild parties that may have been attended by underage boys, to charges of sexual assault.”
On December 7, 2017, just after Singer was reportedly fired from Bohemian Rhapsody over his “unexpected unavailability,” Cesar Sanchez-Guzman accused Singer of sexually assaulting him in 2003. Sanchez-Guzman was 17 at the time.
If pedophilia and the abuse of children and teenagers really is Hollywood’s “other dark secret,” then we need to shine light on both the abusers and the webs of complicity that enable their actions and catch them when they fall. Filmmaker Victor Salva is another auteur who’s managed to eke out a career in Hollywood—despite having served time for sexually abusing the young star of his first feature length film. That movie, Clownhouse, starred the 12-year-old Nathan Winters. Francis Ford Coppola was a producer.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, “During filming, the sixth grader’s mother, Rebecca Winters, began to suspect that her son was being terrorized both on and off the set… Police raided the director and former child-care worker’s home, where they found child pornography—including a homemade pornographic tape that showed Salva engaging in oral sex with his pre-adolescent star.”
In a 2017 interview, Nathan Winters recalled, “He spent the better part of a year grooming me and my parents,” adding, “It was very calculated, and a long process, as it is with most pedophiles.”
Salva pleaded guilty to five felony counts: lewd and lascivious conduct, oral copulation with a person under 14, and three counts of procuring a child for pornography.
The director’s next film, Powder, was distributed by Disney’s Hollywood Pictures in 1995, six years after he was released from prison. Nathan Winters and a group of friends reportedly protested the industry screening of the film, holding up signs that declared, “Victor Salva: Writer, Director, Child Molester.’”
A 2012 Vice article summarized the controversy that surrounded the film, and the ways in which Salva’s crimes were downplayed and essentially ignored. “During the making of Powder, some minor attention was paid to the crimes Salva had committed while shooting Clownhouse. Nathan Forrest Winters and his family even protested personally at the film’s premiere, but it made little difference. Powder’s producers say they were initially unaware of Salva’s crimes and were then misled by his ‘people’ about the seriousness of their nature. Caravan Pictures' chief exec eventually received a tip-off about Salva’s conviction, but the only action he saw fit to take was to tell key people involved in the production to keep an eye out for anything suspicious and the general consensus was to let Salva’s past remain in the past.”
Francis Ford Coppola weighed in in a statement, calling Salva a “talented young director.” Salva went on to write and direct the Jeepers Creepers trilogy, the first two installments of which were executive produced by Coppola. Jeepers Creepers 3 faced a good deal of backlash ahead of its 2017 premiere, including a Change.org petition that read, in part, “The profits from Jeepers Creepers 3 line the pockets of a pedophile. Monsters belong on the screen, not behind the camera. I also urge other members of the horror movie community to take a stance. Spread the word and don’t watch this film!”
The third installment was also criticized for a disturbing “joke” about child molestation, which was reportedly cut from the film’s theatrical cut.
“I think [studio execs] saying, ‘He’ll never work again’ was all for show,” Salva concluded in a 1999 interview. “My God, if they were to take the [arrest] records of every filmmaker or actor, they’d have to shut this town down… Let’s face it, anybody can work here who makes money.”
If there’s any sliver of a silver lining in the Predator story, it’s the fact that higher-ups may now feel compelled to take action beyond just “keeping an eye” on on-set sex offenders. Still, it’s ridiculous that, with an enabler calling the shots, it took a star stumbling upon Striegel’s criminal record to precipitate a necessary conversation about the actor’s past. Had Olivia Munn not been enlightened about Striegel’s case, she would have been put in the incredibly uncomfortable position of unwittingly co-starring with a sex offender. As it was, she found herself in the sufficiently uncomfortable position of having to blow the whistle on her director’s close friend—not to mention his shady hiring practices.
If Munn wasn’t famous and important enough to be listened to, and to feel comfortable speaking up, who knows if Striegel would have been cut from the picture—or how long his post-conviction, Shane Black-assisted career would have flourished.