You’ve heard about cancel culture, but reformations sow the seeds of counter-reformations. Today there is a growing movement to un-cancel celebrated men.
In an ad hoc movement, there is no consistently applied standard, but some of the men who lost high-profile jobs and suffered various other kinds of censure are slowly moving back into public life. Cancellation is not necessarily irreversible.
Take James Gunn, the Marvel director who was publicly fired three years ago from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 following Twitter outrage about tasteless jokes he’d made years previously. He has now emerged from the celebrity Phantom Zone. He is not only working, he is directing a mega-budget picture, The Suicide Squad, to be released next month. One big noteworthy project, it appears, will be all it takes for cancellation victims to follow in the footsteps of blacklist victims: After Otto Preminger invited the blacklisted Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to come out of the shadows and write Exodus under his own name, Trumbo’s spell in limbo (when he had been forced to write under pseudonyms) was over.
Lots of accused men were simply booted off the playing field of corporate America and not allowed to return, notably Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and Kevin Spacey. But many others have come back: Morgan Freeman, former Pixar chief John Lasseter, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, and Aziz Ansari.
Ansari’s Netflix show Master of None went into limbo after a woman accused him of misreading her intentions during what she conceded was a consensual sexual encounter in 2018, and no new episode appeared for four years. But Netflix aired a comeback stand-up-comedy special in 2019 and brought back Master of None for another season, although this time with Ansari working mostly behind the camera.
Some of these men faced very serious allegations that had real weight behind them: Ronaldo, for instance, was accused in 2019 of raping a woman in 2009, and he paid $375,000 to settle the suit. Yet he continues to be either the first- or second-highest-paid soccer star in the world and collects millions in endorsement deals. The world has moved on.
Freeman was accused of inappropriate behavior that fell short of criminal accusations by a number of women back in 2018; he apologized publicly. For a while, he didn’t appear in any studio film, instead sticking to lower-paying indie productions. This year, though, he popped up briefly in Paramount’s Coming 2 America (subsequently sold to Amazon), then had a starring role in Amazon’s TV series Solos, then had a major role in The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, from the mini-major studio Lionsgate. Freeman still hasn’t had a major role in a movie made by one of the five major studios since the scandal, but he appears to be largely forgiven.
It’s odd, though, to consider which celebrities remain in limbo; Woody Allen was thoroughly investigated and then cleared of an obviously false accusation in two states back in 1992. Yet after the allegation was repeated, Amazon canceled a deal with him in 2018 and withdrew from planned theatrical distribution of an Allen movie it paid for, 2019’s A Rainy Day in New York. Today, though, Amazon offers that film, which was subsequently sold to a small distributor and given a token theatrical release, along with lots of other Allen works, on its Amazon Prime streaming service. Allen’s subsequent film, Rifkin’s Festival, has been sitting around for a year trying to attract U.S. distribution.
Louis C.K. remains in limbo also. In 2017, his brilliant FX sitcom Louie was pulled from streaming services and his compelling first film, I Love You Daddy, was yanked out of planned distribution after he admitted past incidents of masturbating in front of appalled women he had invited to his hotel room. HBO pulled his earlier sitcom, Lucky Louie, and all of its C.K. stand-up specials off its platforms, and they still haven’t reappeared.
National Review is an American conservative editorial magazine, focusing on news and commentary pieces on political, social, and cultural affairs.