#MeToo or not #MeToo? Warner Bros chief resigns after sexual misconduct allegations

If a relationship is consensual - is it part of the #MeToo movement?

Warner Bros chief Kevin Tsujihara steps down after 25 years with the company. File photograph:  Robyn Beck/ AFP/Getty Images

Warner Bros chief Kevin Tsujihara steps down after 25 years with the company. File photograph: Robyn Beck/ AFP/Getty Images

 

By now, we’re all familiar with the script. An older, powerful movie mogul and a promising, young female actor. A hotel-room meeting set up by intermediaries. Allegations of one, or more, sexual encounters. The hope, expectation, or even the promise of career enhancement. Subsequent feelings of regret, by one or both of them. A period of painful public revelation. And finally a resignation.

At first glance, the latest headlines about the resignation of a movie mogul over claims of sexual misconduct look like just another depressing episode in the #MeToo movement. This time the cast includes the 54-year-old chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros, Kevin Tsujihara, who has stepped down after 25 years at the company, amid allegations of sexual impropriety: namely that he tried to secure roles for a British actor with whom he is accused of having a consensual sexual relationship.

Chief executive of the parent company, John Stankey, said it was “in the best interest” of the firm that Tsujihara would step down amid allegations of misconduct. “Kevin acknowledges that his mistakes are inconsistent with the company’s leadership expectations,” he said. The firm is conducting an investigation into the allegations.

In an email to colleagues, Tsujihara said his continued leadership risked being a “distraction”.

His resignation comes on the back of a lengthy report earlier this month in The Hollywood Reporter detailing – in one grimly depressing text after another -- his alleged relationship with Charlotte Kirk, which began when she was 21.

“You’re very busy I know but when we were in that motel having sex u said u would help me and when u just ignore me like you’re doing now it makes me feel used. Are u going to help me like u said u would?” Kirk is said to have texted him at one point.

 “Sorry you feel that way. Richard will be reaching out to u tonight,” Tsujihara is reported to have responded.

Eighteen months after the first Weinstein allegations, you could be forgiven for feeling there was a depressing sense of déjà vu about it all. But although there is a substantial age difference and power imbalance, there is at least one crucial difference to these latest allegations: nobody is claiming non-consensual sex. If anything, Kirk seems to have been a willing participant in the encounters with Tsujihara, which allegedly continued for three years.

In the leaked text messages, she comes across as anything but a victim, repeatedly pushing Tsujihara and his associates to help her get cast in Warner Bros. films. She did later land parts in 2016’s How to Be Single and 2018’s Ocean’s 8.

She issued a statement this week, saying she was “deeply saddened” by his resignation, and denying that she had anything to do with the story in the Hollywood Reporter.

Kirk might have been a willing participant in the alleged relationship, but that doesn’t preclude her from being a victim of an industry in which women are treated like sexual commodities to be passed around by powerful men.

The affair appears to have begun when Kirk’s ex-boyfriend James Packer texted her just after midnight one night in September 2013, asking her to come to the Bel Air hotel to meet “the most important man u can meet.”. “I have the opportunity of a lifetime for u,” texts published by The Hollywood Reporter suggest. “Come to [the Hotel] Bel air now. U will never be able to pay me.”

Later that night, she is alleged to have texted back: “His [sic] not very nice! Very pushy!! He just wants to f**k nothing else does not even want To say anything!”

Later, after Packer closed a $450 million deal with Warners, Kirk wrote that she had been “used as the icing on the cake for your finance deal with Warner Bros”, as she put it in a text to his business partner, director Brett Ratner, who later secured her some auditions.

“I didn’t expect to be part of a business deal so all I’m asking is u just help me with a couple of roles it’s not big deal and then we’ll just put this all behind us,” she texted Ratner.

Kirk does not now see herself as a victim, despite having felt “used” at the time. “I might have felt used at the time but I don’t now. Not at all. I was sad it ended badly,” she told the Daily Mail.

“I did not pick a fight but I had to fight when one was brought to me. I was not intimidated or embarrassed and my real regret is that those friendships turned out be fragile.”

But to see this as simply a case of a movie mogul giving into the pressure to score parts for a former ex-lover is to ignore the wider context of sex and power in Hollywood.

If we’ve learned anything from the #MeToo movement, and the ensuing global conversation it sparked, it is that classic abuser-victim templates don’t always apply -- and that the victims of a dysfunctional and abusive system don’t always behave as society believes victims should. Sometimes, they go along with it because they feel powerless, or because acquiescence seems less devastating than the consequences of making a fuss. Sometimes, they decide to try and take an exploitative system and turn it to their advantage. 

In the end, the alleged relationship between Kevin Tsujihara and Charlotte Kirk may prove to be one of mutual exploitation rather than another #MeToo moment -- but it is still symptomatic of the unequal power structures that dominate the entertainment industry.  What we’re left with, once again, is another grim insight into a culture in which young women are seen as sexual playthings, whose chief value is in the pleasure they can bring to powerful men.

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