A new Hollywood Reporter cover story confirms what was long an open secret in the entertainment industry: that Scott Rudin, superstar producer of stage and screen and one of the few Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT) winners, is an abusive boss. The story primarily features Rudin’s former personal assistants detailing the verbal (he frequently screams in his assistant’s faces that they are “worthless”) and professional (he spreads lies about former employees and intentionally removes their credits after they resign) abuse he subjected them to. Most concerningly, many of former assistants allege physical abuse such as Rudin throwing objects at staff and smashing a computer monitor on an assistant’s hand. One assistant even claims that he fired her for being diabetic, a federally protected disability.
These allegations are shocking, disgusting, and far-ranging. They reveal that one of the most awarded men in the history of the American theater is a vicious abuser. So why, then, has much of the theater press been silent?
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A as of this writing, the vast majority of theater publications have not reported on the allegations against Rudin, including the influential Arts Section of the New York Times. In the words of the Seattle Press “How have Hollywood and Broadway responded to an exposé detailing routine abuse and bullying by producer Scott Rudin? Mostly, with crickets.” Further, the countless stars who have worked with Rudin and won awards for his projects have also been overwhelmingly silent.
This reveals two things: first, that abuse like this of workers is considered acceptable in the entertainment industry and, second, that the bourgeois press is in bed with the capitalists — if you are rich and powerful enough, you can bury stories that you don’t want published. This flies directly in the face of the performance of journalistic independence that many bourgeois reporters like to put on.
When allegations broke against Harvey Weinstein, another powerful producer like Rudin, there was an almost immediate outpouring of reporting, solidarity, and confirmation of the allegations. The #MeToo movement kicked off and every mainstream media source wrote about the allegations. So why is there silence now? The answer is two fold: first, as of this writing, Rudin is not accused of sexual assault and, second, Weinstein was abusing the wrong people — namely, celebrities. People were shocked that rich, powerful actresses were also victims of the assault and harassment that so many working women face every day. Weinstein wasn’t just abusing normal people, he was abusing stars. That was a shocking story that sold papers, got people to tune in, and got clicks.
Rudin, by contrast, primarily targeted his underlings. This makes it less of a story. “Millionaire producer abuses other millionaires” is a story because it is shocking, while “millionaire boss abuses employees” is expected and, thus, not a story that will sell papers. This is why the distinction between the way the Weinstein allegations and the Rudin allegations were covered is so pronounced. It isn’t just that Weinstein’s abuse was sexual and that Rudin’s (as far as we currently know) wasn’t — it’s who their victims are.
This speaks to a larger culture in the entertainment industry specifically and capitalism in general: workers have accepted that our bosses abuse and degrade us. There are countless stories in film and television that follow put-upon assistants who work for abusive bosses, and we are told that this is not only acceptable — it’s normal. This narrative would have us believe that we are supposed to work long hours for little (or often no) pay for demanding and degrading bosses because it builds character and that’s what everyone does.
These toxic work cultures created by capitalism are especially acute in the entertainment industry. From abusive training programs to abusive working conditions, young people who want to break into the entertainment industry are especially exploited and abused and then tossed aside once they can’t take the abuse any more. Behind the glossy sheen of show business lurks rampant and generally accepted systemic abuse. This is another reason why there hasn’t been an equivalent outcry to the Rudin allegations as there were to the Weinstein allegations: frankly, they aren’t that surprised or shocked.
We also cannot discount the financial relationship between big-shot producers like Rudin and the entertainment press. Entertainment journalists (and journalists in general) rely on those with power for access. In order to do your job as an entertainment journalist you need to be able to have interviews with big-name talent, get scoops about behind-the-scenes drama, and free tickets to performances so that you can review them. All of this relies on the gate-keepers of the entertainment industry liking you. This creates a material pressure on journalists to bury stories that might burn bridges with those who hold the keys to the kingdom.
Rudin’s behavior and the seemingly total lack of consequences reveals the free pass we give to powerful people to abuse their workers. It also reveals how the press is, by and large, in bed with these capitalists and are willing to turn a blind eye, as long as their behavior doesn’t get too extreme or impact the wrong people. This is outrageous, and the social media outcry about the lack of reporting is correct and a long-time coming. Scott Rudin is not an anomaly. In countless entertainment industry offices across Los Angeles and New York City right now, thousands of Scott Rudins are screaming and throwing things at their staff — and that’s just in the entertainment industry. Capitalism creates the conditions for abuse in all workplaces, as well as the conditions for covering it up.