I was 11 when I first read an interview with Bryan Singer in Empire magazine to mark the special edition DVD release of The Usual Suspects. As a budding film expert at the time, I instantly idolised him as an auteur filmmaker. I recall hearing him speak for the first time on the X-Men 1.5 DVD, put out to promote X2, and I learned much from him about realism in fantasy filmmaking.
X2 was my favourite superhero film until Batman Begins, and I was greatly disheartened when he left X-Men 3 to do Superman Returns. As laboriously paced and unfortunate as that film’s deadbeat portrayal of Superman was, I’ll argue it was far more coherent than Man of Steel anytime, and I’d loved to have seen what the sequel could have accomplished.
Apart from Superman Returns, I’ve never not enjoyed a Singer film: Apt Pupil and Valkyrie were both tense and nail-biting thrillers, and I even found Jack the Giant Slayer fun despite being tonally all over the place. I also admired him for succeeding in Hollywood despite being a bisexual adopted man with dyslexia.
In 2014, Singer was accused of raping a boy in Hawaii in 1999. It had been roughly 18 months since Jimmy Savile was exposed as a paedophile, and Lance Armstrong was unmasked as a liar and a cheat, so I knew it had to happen with one of my heroes at some point. But I gave Singer the benefit of the doubt, aware he was busy in Canada prepping X-Men that year. There had been false alarms before, I remembered when Matthew Kelly was falsely accused, and William Roache had just been acquitted too. Singer forgoed doing press for that year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which became the most critically and financially successful X-Men film yet. Singer also became a father, becoming co-parents with Michelle Clunie, and a year later, his accuser Michael Egan was jailed for fraud. It seemed like the definition of a eucatastrophe.
But there was another accusation, settled out of court, that was less easy for me to dismiss. Then I watched the documentary An Open Secret, which, while relying too heavily on Egan’s account, demonstrated Singer was either complicit in a casting couch culture that abused boys looking for work, or was unbelievably naive about some of his co-workers. I also couldn’t help but think about the incident on the set of Apt Pupil, which seemed like a misunderstanding before but implied something darker now.
X-Men: Apocalypse came out in 2016 to quite negative reviews. I haven’t seen it as I can’t afford to spend time and money anymore on mediocre movies, but I can’t help but wonder if the response was, as things can change a lot within a single year, a result of critics being embarrassed of the great reviews they gave DOFP. (To be fair, Singer seemed only interested in superpowers and visual effects.) There was far greater concern about Singer’s past than his ability to direct a movie about Freddie Mercury.
So, after Harvey Weinstein was exposed for the monster he is, attentions quickly turned to Singer. More rape accusations followed, including a deleted Twitter thread from actor Justin Smith, which nevertheless prompted Singer to leave the site. Kevin Spacey, who starred in Usual Suspects and Superman Returns, was also accused of paedophelia. And then Singer got fired from Bohemian Rhapsody. Singer claimed he was fired two weeks before filming wrapped because the studio refused to accommodate his decision to leave and care for an ill parent, but reports emerged of erratic behaviour on set and fights with cast members like Rami Malek and Tom Hollander. 20th Century Fox might have let it slide, as was the case with previous incidents on the sets of X2, Superman Returns or Apocalypse, if Singer was still regarded as an auteur, not a pariah.
Singer may have been a brilliant filmmaker, but there are so many others in Hollywood who don’t get the chances he has received. He may be a bisexual adopted dyslexic man but he also benefited from white male privilege. And because Singer was an auteur, we — including me, as a fan — made excuses or were in denial about it. Post-Weinstein, I also see clearly, now, that predators have abused the benefit of the doubt, and in granting them leniency we’ve neglected and endangered their victims. Understanding the weight of rape culture and the massive backlash that survivors face in coming forward, we must stand with the accusers, and believe that they wouldn’t subject themselves to shame, hatred, social isolation and victim blaming if they weren’t telling the truth.
In light of this personal and cultural shift, I had to ask myself… What prompted my doubts? What was I so afraid of? That I could never watch an X-Men movie again? I believe that you cannot separate art from the artist for art is ultimately its creator’s window on the world. But Singer’s alleged crimes won’t take away from everyone else’s brilliant work on his films. We should not feel sorry for the rich director, but his victims, and for collaborators like editor/composer John Ottman, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, and directors who got their start as writers for him like Chris McQuarrie (who has similarly wiped his Twitter account) and Mike Dougherty.
So perhaps this isn’t my last word on Singer’s movies: maybe one day I’ll write an appraisal of Valkyrie, Tom Cruise’s last serious work. But until then, when Singer’s behaviour won’t be overlooked by producers, we should focus on giving other talented filmmakers the spotlight. And for God’s sake, someone look into whether he’s fit to parent his son.
Editor: Andrea Merodeadora