On Tuesday, Netflix announced it has postponed the release of the movie Otherhood, a romantic comedy scheduled on the streaming service for April 26. The movie features Felicity Huffman, Patricia Arquette and Angela Bassett.
Take note that the movie is “postponed.” It’s not cancelled. And that Netflix made the announcement after Huffman agreed to plead guilty to fraud and expressed remorse for her part in the U.S. college admissions scam. Huffman is one of 13 people who have admitted paying bribes to get their children into desirable colleges.
Also take note that Netflix has said nothing about its mini-series When They See Us, a drama about the Central Park Five. In it, Huffman plays Linda Fairstein, the head of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who oversaw the prosecution of the five young men charged with beating and raping the victim known as “The Central Park Jogger” in 1989. All five were later exonerated. When They See Us is still scheduled to stream on May 31 and you can find the Netflix trailer online.
The matter of Huffman and her career raises uncomfortable questions about star power, privilege, entitlement and fan worship. Basically, even in this age of outrage and the mob mentality of online attacks, some showbiz careers aren’t ruined by scandal. It just depends on the scandal and the image the showbiz figure has in the public consciousness. Huffman is considered a serious actress, a feminist and a serious person. That’s what matters. Maybe there is a crisis of morality when it comes to punishing showbiz stars and maybe the public never quite gets beyond its affection for some of them.
Initially when U.S. federal prosecutors revealed they’d indicted 50 wealthy people involved in paying money for cheating on standardized tests or bribing college officials to accept students as college athletes, there was public outrage and media denunciation of the indicted. The two showbiz figures, Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were the focus of hatred and scorn. Loughlin’s contract with Crown Media, which produces the Hallmark Channel series in which she stars, was cancelled immediately.
The difference between Huffman and Loughlin is that Lori Loughlin has never been considered a serious actor or a serious person. Loughlin didn’t appear on Broadway in David Mamet’s play Speed-the-Plow. Huffman did that. There’s a lip-smacking quality to the news media coverage of Loughlin. Not so with Huffman. And, after all, Loughlin and her husband reportedly spent $500,000 to get a daughter to college, Huffman only spent $15,000. It’s like the amount gives her artistic credibility.
Now, it’s true that money crimes are treated differently from physical crimes. And a rich person’s money crime is treated very differently from a poor person’s money crime. Punishment is harsher for the latter, even if a poor person’s money crime is committed out of need – the need to eat, survive and feed a family – while a rich person’s money crime is usually done out of greed. Everybody seems okay with this reality.
It’s also true that there are various levels of reaction to different kinds of showbiz crimes. Netflix severed ties with Kevin Spacey when the actor was accused of sexual misconduct by numerous men. That cost Netflix millions but it had to be done. Yet, nobody seems to be severing ties with Felicity Huffman.
What’s interesting about the entire college admissions scandal is that privilege is foundational in the American culture. It’s just that nobody ever wants to admit it. And Hollywood is all about wealth and privilege but the perception of Hollywood’s elitist entitlement is warped by stardom and the public’s admiration and affection for certain figures. While there can be public outrage about the very wealthy paying little tax and buying college admissions for their children, the same level of outrage will never be aimed at movie and TV stars.
It’s fair to say that the sexual misconduct revealed by the #MeToo movement was allowed to flourish because so few people wanted to believe the sordid side of show business even existed. It seems bizarre now that an industry run mostly by men and in general fuelled by male desire, was not seen in all its awfulness for so long.
These days, sexual misconduct and racism are the top two sins in showbiz. Matters of money and using wealth to cheat are far down the list. You have to wonder why. There is something disproportionate about the moral tone that is taken in reaction to and in coverage of the college admissions scandal. Felicity Huffman’s career should be toast, but it isn’t. Far from it. It’s just postponed, not cancelled.