In March, Jonathan Majors was arrested on charges of strangulation, assault, and harassment after allegedly assaulting a woman. Within hours of the news breaking, Twitter was alight with people accusing the reports of “trying to cancel” him as they maintained an “innocent until proven guilty” mantra.
It seemed as though the alleged victim was under fiercer scrutiny than Majors himself, with the star’s attorney doubling down on his innocence after Variety reported that multiple other women had come forward to accuse Majors of abuse since his arrest.
“Jonathan Majors is innocent and has not abused anyone. We have provided irrefutable evidence to the District Attorney that the charges are false. We are confident that he will be fully exonerated,” his attorney Priya Chaudhry said in a statement on Apr. 20.
The alleged victims are said to be cooperating with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, and Majors is expected to virtually appear before a judge today on multiple counts of harassment and assault.
While it has been reported that the star has been dropped by his talent manager and PR team, it is too soon to tell if Majors will face any long-term career repercussions. However, the public’s initial response to the charges was enough to highlight an increasingly common trend.
All too often, alleged victims are accused of making up their claims with the sole purpose of ruining an innocent man’s life and career. Their credibility is mercilessly examined with a fine-toothed comb by internet sleuths determined to find an ulterior motive, with every accusation hauled into question in a bid to clear their favorite star’s name.
It’s a depressing, relentless cycle — not least because of the trauma inflicted on potential victims during this online persecution. But it’s also a monumental waste of time when we’ve seen, repeatedly, that it’s actually nearly impossible to derail a famous man’s reputation.
In January, viewers of the Golden Globes saw Brad Pitt looking on joyfully from the audience, clapping and laughing as multiple celebrities treated him as the guest of honor, falling over themselves to make their love and admiration known.
Abbot Elementary creator Quinta Brunson paused her speech to give Pitt a starstruck shout-out. Austin Butler announced Pitt as one of his “heroes,” before gushing: “Brad, I love you.” Regina Hall built her entire presenting bit around Pitt’s mere existence, joking that she’d been introduced incorrectly because she’s actually “Mrs. Pitt.”
Later, Janelle James would swoon over the actor in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, where she could barely contain her excitement over spending an evening in his presence.
But this endless stream of pro-Pitt rhetoric came just three months after his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie, made a series of harrowing allegations against him, detailing examples of alleged physical abuse towards her and their children.
In a legal filing, Jolie accused her then-husband of choking one of their children and striking another in the face during a flight in 2016, just days before she filed for divorce from Pitt. She also alleged that he “grabbed” her by the head and “shook her,” poured beer on her, and poured beer and red wine on their children.
And it wasn’t just Jolie’s industry peers who so quickly and publicly aligned themselves with Pitt as he became the tousled-haired golden boy of the Golden Globes. The media were also quick to fawn over his attendance.
“Here's Proof Brad Pitt Was the Life of the Party at the 2023 Golden Globes,” an E! headline read, while Vogue went for a more direct: “Brad Pitt Debuts A New Heartthrob Haircut At The Golden Globes.”
Then, in a feat of timing, less than a week after Pitt received God-level praise, another actor was lauded despite his problematic history. This time it was Kevin Spacey, who was honored with a prestigious lifetime achievement award in Italy.
The Museum of Cinema in Turin said that they wanted to recognize the actor’s “personal aesthetic and authorial contribution to the development of the art of drama,” and Spacey accepted the award just days after he’d appeared in a UK court on seven charges of sexual assault dating back to the early 2000s.
He is currently awaiting trial for a total of 12 sexual offenses against four accusers, all of which he has denied.
The trial is due to start in June, almost a year after a Los Angeles judge ruled that Spacey and his production companies must pay the creators of House Of Cards $30.9 million after they accused him of violating his contract by sexually harassing crew members.
Spacey first faced scrutiny in 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, when BuzzFeed News published a report detailing allegations from Anthony Rapp, who accused the actor of sexually assaulting him in 1986 when he was just 14 years old. Following Rapp’s initial allegations in 2017, more than 30 men came forward with allegations against Spacey, ranging from nonconsensual groping to the attempted rape of minors.
Spacey has denied the accusations and initially responded to Rapp’s claim by issuing a statement where he came out as gay. He also added on Twitter at the time: “If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
Spacey initially faced fierce scrutiny and industry backlash amid the allegations, however, his recent award proves that any form of cancellation has only been short-term. In his acceptance speech in Italy earlier this year, Spacey thanked the Museum of Cinema for having “la palle,” which translates to “the balls,” to honor him.
And while it’s important to reiterate that both Pitt and Spacey have denied all of the allegations that they’ve faced, the way that they’ve been treated is still proof that the mythical threat of so-called “cancel culture” shouldn’t be an immediate counter-argument as soon as an accusation is made.
Of course, it goes without saying that famous women are rarely afforded the same treatment. Winona Ryder saw her career come to a halt after becoming an industry punchline when she was arrested for shoplifting in 2001. Similarly, Janet Jackson faced severe backlash after Justin Timberlake exposed her nipple during their 2004 Super Bowl halftime performance. Radio stations refused to play her music, and her album, Damita Jo, released one month after the incident, ended up being her lowest-selling in 20 years while Timberlake’s career thrived.
Almost two decades after Ryder’s arrest, her ex-fiancé, Johnny Depp, was accused of abuse by ex-wife Amber Heard. The allegations and ensuing legal battles grabbed headlines all over the world and sparked what some believe to be the beginning of a #MeToo backlash.
In 2020, a British court ruled that it was “substantially true” for the tabloid newspaper, the Sun, to refer to Depp as a “wife beater” after they published a story that referenced Heard’s testimony that he had abused her several times between 2013 and 2016.
Heard made these allegations when she obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp soon after she filed for a divorce in May 2016. At the time, Depp’s representatives accused Heard of “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse."
In 2019, Depp sued Heard for defamation over an article that she wrote for the Washington Post about domestic abuse the previous year. The case went to trial in Virginia last year and played out in excruciatingly public detail.
Throughout the trial, jurors were shown graphic and violent text messages that Depp had sent to friends about Heard. In one text message that was sent to actor Paul Bettany in 2013, Depp wrote: “Let's drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she's dead."
In another, Depp said: “I'll smack the ugly cunt around before I let her in, don't worry.” And one more read: "I'm a fucking savage. Gotta' lose that. Gonna' lose that. The devil is all around, right?”
But Heard endured unrelenting ridicule, mockery, and vilification from the public, her fellow celebrities, and the media who treated her courtroom drama as entertainment. She was also subjected to horrific online abuse, being deliberately targeted by Twitter users who branded her everything from a “liar,” to a “manipulator” and a “bitch.”
And despite the incredibly grave subject matter, the trial’s transformation into a global media circus is perhaps best highlighted by its commodification, with public interest in the discourse so high that lawyers cashed in on social media by offering their own legal commentary to courtroom live streams.
The jury ended up ruling in Depp's favor, saying that Heard had defamed the actor in her op-ed. She was ordered to pay $10 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.
Interestingly, when Jolie made her claims about Pitt just four months after the Heard/Depp trial, she was immediately branded “Amber 2.0” by the same online revelers, highlighting just how ingrained distrust of alleged victims is — and the misogyny inherent in the response.
But the allegations leveled at Depp during the trial did not see him canceled — in fact, it was quite the opposite. Last month it was announced that his new movie will be opening Cannes Film Festival, and just months after the trial ended Rihanna invited Depp to be the first ever man to have his own spotlight segment at her Savage X Fenty show, where he walked the catwalk to Outkast's "So Fresh, So Clean."
It was a striking move considering Rihanna’s own history of domestic abuse involving another decidedly uncanceled “canceled” celebrity. In 2009, the world was left horrified when a photo of her beaten and bruised face was released after Chris Brown assaulted her in a car.
The two were in a relationship at the time, and as Rihanna sought medical attention Brown turned himself in to the Los Angeles Police Department and later pleaded guilty to the attack.
The vicious assault turned Rihanna into the butt of the joke and the altercation became an immediate pop culture punchline, with shows like Parks & Recreation, 2 Broke Girls, and Family Guy all making lighthearted references to it. Seth MacFarlane even joked about the assault in his opening monologue when he hosted the 2013 Oscars.
While Brown did face legal repercussions for his actions, including being denied a visa to enter several countries, his career remained largely unaffected.
His album Graffiti was released just 10 months after the attack and debuted at number seven on the US Billboard 200. Two years later, Brown landed his first ever number one album on the chart with F.A.M.E. — leaving little question over the public’s response to him.
And the industry was just as forgiving, with F.A.M.E. later earning Brown his first Grammy, which he called the “ultimate FUCK OFF” to his haters. As online commentators brought up Brown’s assault on Rihanna following his win, Brown responded by tweeting: “HATE ALL U WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That's the ultimate FUCK OFF!"
And in the years since the attack, Brown has also collaborated with some of the world’s most prominent artists — including Nicki Minaj, and Justin Bieber — and maintained a large and passionate fan base.
Earlier this year he received a hero’s welcome back to the United Kingdom after his ban on entering the country was lifted. On his return to Britain, Brown sold out four nights at London’s 20,000-capacity O2 arena among other venues up and down the country.
And Brown isn’t the only celebrity who has managed to maintain a career in the spotlight despite being convicted of assault. Take Mark Wahlberg, who served just 45 days of a two-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to felony assault in 1988. Wahlberg was convicted after he perpetrated a racist assault on a Vietnamese-American man, calling him a “Vietnam fucking shit” and knocking him unconscious with a large wooden stick.
That same day, he’d attacked another Vietnamese-American man by punching him in the eye. Investigators noted at the time that Wahlberg "made numerous unsolicited racial statements” after he was arrested.
These attacks came two years after Wahlberg was found guilty in a civil case after he and three friends chased three Black children while shouting racist slurs, threatening to kill them, and throwing rocks at them. The next day, Wahlberg and others followed a group of mostly Black fourth-graders on a field trip and yelled racist abuse at them while throwing rocks.
In 1992, Wahlberg allegedly fractured the jaw of his neighbor after he “viciously and repeatedly kicked” him in the face unprovoked while his friend held the victim to the ground. The lawsuit ended up being settled between the two parties without a criminal trial.
By this point, Wahlberg had already enjoyed huge success with his hip-hop group, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, which released multiple certified gold top-10 singles a year prior.
But Wahlberg’s pattern of troubling attacks did little to hinder his ascent as a massive star; after switching from music to acting in the late ‘90s, he has remained a household name and amassed a fortune. In 2017, Forbes named him the highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
Just this year Wahlberg was chosen to present the predominantly Asian cast of Everything Everywhere All At Once with a Screen Actors Guild award — a decision that courted controversy thanks to his often-overlooked history of racial violence.
And later in the ‘90s, Jack Nicholson’s behavior was received with similar nonchalance from the general public and acting industry to Wahlberg’s.
In 1996, the household name reached a $32,000 settlement with sex worker Catherine Sheehan after she alleged that he’d promised her $1,000 for sex but then viciously assaulted her when she asked for the money.
According to Sheehan’s lawsuit, Nicholson became “loud and abusive” after they’d had sex, and he allegedly grabbed her hair, thumped her head on the floor, hit her so hard that he ruptured her breast implants, and then pursued her while shouting "I'm going to kill you” as she fled the property.
Just two months after the alleged attack, Nicholson was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2000, Sheehan initiated more legal proceedings against Nicholson because the attack had left her with irreversible brain damage. Her lawyer said of the injuries: “The damage to her brain stem got worse than originally thought. Now the injury is actually killing her. She has no vision at times and finds it hard to cope with the pain.”
The case ended up being dismissed — both in the court of law and the court of public opinion, with Sheehan’s claims not having any impact on Nicholson’s career.
If anything, the allegations were seemingly accepted as one of the wacky star’s many eccentricities; in 1997, Tampa Bay Times ran an article that appeared to excuse Nicholson’s behavior with the headline “He's just being Jack.”
“Nicholson routinely plunges off the precipice of eccentricity, landing in the muck of near madness. Those sunglasses. That manic, fleeting smile. Those inexplicable encounters with women,” the piece casually reads. “A prostitute has sued him, claiming he unmercifully beat her when she requested payment for services rendered.”
In 1998, two years after the alleged incidents, Nicholson was awarded the Best Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award for his performance in As Good As It Gets. And in 2003 he won a Golden Globe for his movie About Schmidt. In the years since, he has been nominated for several other awards including BAFTAs, Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAGs.
But it’s not just the men in front of the camera who have enjoyed flourishing careers in the face of criminal charges.
Just look at Roman Polanski, who remains a fugitive from the US after he fled the country in 1978 when he faced a prison term instead of probation for allegedly drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.
In a plea bargain, Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor but relocated to Paris when he learned that the judge planned to reject the deal.
Since then, several other women have accused Polanski of assault, including British actor Charlotte Lewis who alleged that the director sexually abused her when she was 16 during a casting session at his home.
Polanski denied all of these allegations at the time, and they ended up being dismissed because the statute of limitations for the assault had expired. However, his 1978 US charges are still pending.
Despite all of this, Polanski remains a decorated filmmaker, and in the decades since he was first convicted he has worked with the likes of Kate Winslet, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Harrison Ford — to name a few. His work has also been celebrated by industry pros and he has won and been nominated for several prestigious awards.
In 1980 — just two years after he fled the US — he was nominated in the Best Director category for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his movie Tess. And in 2003 he won an Academy Award and a BAFTA for his direction on the movie The Pianist.
Polanski received a standing ovation from the star-studded audience for his wins at the time, but was unable to accept any award in person. If he had stepped foot in America to attend the Oscars, he would have been arrested.
Meanwhile, Woody Allen has enjoyed decades of success and industry celebration since his seven-year-old adopted daughter alleged that he sexually assaulted her in 1992.
Dylan Farrow’s mom, Mia Farrow, filmed the little girl recounting the alleged assault the day after it occurred to use as evidence against Allen. This footage was featured in an HBO documentary series in 2021.
Dylan also recalled the alleged incident on CBS This Morning in 2018, saying at the time: “I was taken to a small attic crawl space in my mother’s country house in Connecticut by my father. He instructed me to lay down on my stomach and play with my brother’s toy train that was set up. And he sat behind me in the doorway, and as I played with the toy train, I was sexually assaulted.”
Allen always denied his daughter’s allegations, and shortly after Dylan’s mom opened a molestation investigation against him in 1992, Allen released a statement that confirmed he was in a relationship with her 21-year-old daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.
Farrow had adopted Soon-Yi in 1977, when she was seven years old. Farrow started dating Allen two years later, and 13 years after that she discovered nude photographs of Soon-Yi in Allen’s apartment.
In his statement, Allen said of his and Soon Yi’s secret relationship: “It’s real and happily all true.” They married in 1997, when Allen was 62 years old and she just 27.
In the years since the molestation investigation was opened, Allen has enjoyed a glittering career and worked with dozens of big-name stars including Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson, and Jude Law.
In 1997, he was awarded a BAFTA fellowship award, and in 2014 he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Meanwhile, he won an Academy Award for Midnight in Paris in 2012, and even a Grammy that same year for the movie’s soundtrack.
In fact, Allen didn’t really suffer any impact from Dylan’s allegations until the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017.
In December of that year, Dylan wrote an op-ed called “Why has the #MeToo revolution spared Woody Allen?” for the Los Angeles Times, where she called out “A-list actors” for choosing to work with Allen despite her long-standing accusations.
Allen was working on his movie A Rainy Day in New York at the time, and Dylan’s piece ended up finally sparking a response from some stars — inclhigh-profileding the high profile actors signed onto his current project.
One of them was Timothee Chalamet, who said that he did “not want to profit” from the film and announced that he’d donate his salary to charity. Actors who’d worked with Allen in the past also denounced the director, including Colin Firth, Greta Gerwig, and Michael Caine.
In 2020, Allen released a memoir called Apropos of Nothing, where he lashed out at some of his former colleague’s “policy” to “always believe the woman” and branded it “simple-mindedness.”
Then there’s David O. Russell, who worked with everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Christian Bale to Taylor Swift on his movie Amsterdam just last year.
In fact, Russell has been working consistently with A-list names in the years since his niece filed a sexual assault claim against him in 2011. Nicole Peloquin, who is transgender, accused her uncle of touching her without her consent and asking inappropriate questions about her transition.
Russell admitted that he had fondled his niece at the time, but claimed that she had acted “very provocative towards him.” Per a representative for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, local police closed the case without any charges being filed against Russell because authorities did not witness the alleged assault.
Silver Linings Playbook was released to critical acclaim the following year and American Hustle in 2012.
In 2016, Amy Adams revealed that working with Russell on the latter was so traumatic that she cried constantly during filming. This was years after a video of Russell verbally berating Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees went viral.
At one point in the footage, Russell hurled the contents of a table on the floor and yelled at Tomlin: “OK bitch? I’m not here to be fucking yelled at! I worked on this fucking thing for three fucking years not to have some fucking cunt yell at me in front of the fucking crew when I’m trying to fucking help you, you bitch!”
It’s not just women who have been on the receiving end of Russell’s behavior, either. In 2000, George Clooney called his time working with the director on 1999’s Three Kings “truly, without exception, the worst experience” of his life.
In the interview, Clooney claimed that Russell treated crew members and background actors on set so poorly that he ended up having a physical altercation with him. The actor recalled: “I said, ‘David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.’ He turned on me and said, ‘Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me.’ I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, ‘Hit me, you pussy. Hit me.’ Then he got me by the throat and I went nuts.”
Five years later, Clooney was still furious over the incident, telling Premiere: “Quite honestly, if he comes near me, I’ll sock him right in the fucking mouth.”
But even when other celebrities turn their backs on a disgraced star, the industry at large seems reluctant to do the same.
After all, Dave Chapelle just won a Grammy for his Netflix comedy special that initially sparked fierce backlash for his anti-trans rhetoric.
And in April of last year Louis C.K. was awarded a Grammy for his comedy special Sincerely, Louis C.K., which ironically was a reflection on him apparently being “canceled” in 2017 after five women came forward to accuse the comic of sexual misconduct, alleging that C.K. had asked or forced them to watch him masturbate.
Nothing screams “I’ve been canceled” more than winning a Grammy, right?
“These stories are true,” C.K. said in a statement after the allegations surfaced. Referencing the victims, he added: “I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it.”
C.K. went on to acknowledge that he was “remorseful” of the “hurt” that he’d inflicted upon these women, and that he will “now step back and take a long time to listen.”
But less than a year later, C.K. quietly returned to stand-up comedy, and by December 2018 he’d courted controversy again after audio from one of his sets leaked online. In his material, C.K. appeared to make light of his sexual assault scandal and mocked the Parkland High School shooting survivors, as well as gender pronouns.
Sincerely, Louis C.K. was released in April 2020, and the star discussed the allegations against him in this, too. Here he played down the severity of what he’d done and joked about getting into “global amounts of trouble” off the back of the women’s allegations.
He went on to argue that everybody has their sexual quirks — and now “everyone knows” what his are.
And when a comedian can win a Grammy after using the sexual assault allegations against them as set fodder, when someone’s career can go from strength to strength after being imprisoned for racially-motivated violence, and when various stars can achieve hero status from their industry peers as well as their fans amid heinous accusations, it just proves how untouchable these men really are.
While it’d of course be troubling to immediately diminish the careers or the reputations of any man who faces any allegation at any time, it is important to highlight that accusing victims of fabricating allegations with the sole purpose of getting one-up on a celebrity is equally unjust.
It has been proven time and time again that a male celebrity being accused of any kind of crime rarely results in the permanent derailing of his career, regardless of what some critics may argue.
In fact, even when an allegation is proven to be true — via the star’s own admission or in the court of law — the consequences that the abuser faces for their actions are rarely long-lasting.
After all, cancel culture isn’t real. At least not when it comes to famous men.