Scandal insurance could negate production studios' entire incentive not to work with problematic stars.
There's a burgeoning industry in Hollywood scandal insurance that aims to carve out a niche at the crossroads of #MeToo and capitalism.
The resulting "product" is nothing short of a dystopian nightmare that effectively removes the only incentive Hollywood has not to hire terrible people: losing money.
Case in point: Vulture profiled a Boston-based start-up called SpottedRisk. The company's business model revolves around massive data collection of the assorted "attributes" and "risk factors" of nearly 27,000 public figures. These data points include everything from a celebrity's past transgressions (i.e. allegations of sexual assault) to general "likability."
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By assigning their data various numerical values, SpottedRisk asserts that they can predict a given celebrity's likelihood of facing a career-damaging scandal in the future. This allows them to "insure" Hollywood studios and production companies against scandals in the same way that other insurance companies offer coverage for natural disasters––or at least it will once they start getting clients.
The problem isn't one of practicalities; it's one of morality. While it's yet to be seen if any Hollywood studios will actually shell out the money for insurance of this nature (SpottedRisk's maximum payout of $10 million is low enough that it might not be worth it for bigger productions), the number of celebrities taken down by #MeToo for predatory behavior continues rising. Hypothetically, a market exists to serve production companies worried about their leading stars' buried skeletons.
One of the more troubling revelations SpottedRisk's data seems to show is that, in spite of social media backlash, many subjects of #MeToo haven't been hit nearly as hard as one might think. Aside from major targets like Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly, most remain fully employable.
After all, although the #MeToo movement might seem like a never-ending series of bombshell accusations to the general public, many of the revelations had been open secrets in Hollywood for years. Even interns heard stories about Harvey Weinstein, and Max Landis was always a known creep. But until enough people felt empowered to out them publicly, studios continued working with them because their names held clout. It was only after being publicly outed that their names became dirt.
One of the biggest upsides to #MeToo is its preventative power. Historically, someone with as much earning power as Bill Cosby could get away with drugging women for decades while still being protected by the Hollywood system. Now, someone like Bill Cosby would be a major liability, regardless of whether or not the public knew his secret. In the age of #MeToo, working with a predator is a ticking time bomb. In an industry whose most powerful people already take constant advantage of anyone below them, this is a major improvement.
But scandal insurance would negate the entire incentive not to work with problematic stars. Currently, a studio might not hire a talented director known for molesting extras because they worry that if anyone comes forward, people won't go see their movie. It may not come from the kindness of their hearts, but the end result is still a safer industry wherein fewer people are getting molested. With scandal insurance, that incentive is gone. Presumably, a studio could hire that director, and if he got outed, oh well, they receive a profit through insurance instead.
Even worse, assuming that scandal insurance payout maximums could be raised in the future, hiring incredibly problematic people could even offer untold benefits. It's not hard to imagine a new form of insurance fraud whereby studios attach dangerous talent to not-so-great projects, break a scandal, and collect on profits that the actual movie might not have even generated. That's not to say that every celebrity accused during #MeToo should never be allowed to work again, but their predatory actions should rightfully give anyone pause before choosing to work with them.
Morality and capitalism rarely go hand-in-hand, and that truth pervades throughout Hollywood culture. #MeToo is the first movement in ages to question the foundation of that system. Now, scandal insurance threatens to undo all of that good work for a quick penny.
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