More than one institution has issues in learning lessons from past abuse scandals. The new film The Predator is the sixth film in the sci-fi series that goes back more than thirty years, but the title has taken on an uncomfortable new meaning for director Shane Black. One of its featured actors, Olivia Munn, discovered that Black had cast a registered sex offender into a role for a scene in which she appears and blew up over it — forcing the studio to cut his scene from the film.
Black offered an apology while ducking the press at the premiere, and Munn says she’s doing publicity for the film mainly out of obligation to the other cast and crew:
“The Predator” director Shane Black skipped the red carpet in its entirety for the Toronto Film Festival premiere of the Fox film after news broke Thursday that he cast his friend, Steven Wilder Striegel, a registered sex offender, in the film without the cast and crew’s knowledge.
Star Olivia Munn, who appeared opposite Striegel in his only scene, which was cut from the film, did not give interviews on the red carpet, though she did pose for pictures. Munn tweeted shortly before the premiere that she was only continuing to do press because she was contractually obligated and because she and the crew had worked hard on the film.
Black, who was present in the theater to introduce the film, released an apology for the casting Thursday, saying that he was not aware of the full circumstances that resulted in Striegel’s registry and had accepted his friend’s explanation.
That’s not quite true, says the actor himself. Black knew exactly why Striegel went to prison for six months, and says that the director knew he wasn’t a risk. That’s why Black didn’t even make him audition for the role:
Striegel said he did not have to audition for his part in the movie. “The character I played was named after a mutual friend of ours, and it seemed a good fit,” he wrote in an email.
“I’ve known Shane Black 14 years, well before this incident, and I think it’s worth noting that he was aware of the facts,” Striegel said. “Shane can speak for himself, but I’m quite certain that if he felt I was a danger in any way to have around, he would not have.”
Striegel says he went to prison for the e-mail, but the allegations went a little further than that, at least originally:
Striegel is registered as a sex offender in Connecticut, where he was charged. According to the registry, Striegel was 38 years old when he “engaged in an Internet relationship with a fourteen year old female victim who was known to him. The offender attempted to lure the victim into a sexual relationship by making sexually graphic suggestions to the victim.”
The actor and the girl also allegedly had physical contact, which included “kissing, touching [the minor’s] breast over her clothing, rubbing her legs and stroking her neck,” according to a 2009 arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the LA Times. Citing email exchanges, the affidavit alleged that Striegel told the teenager he wanted to pursue a sexual relationship with her and asked her to keep it a secret.
Striegel told the Times he emailed the girl, telling her she was “attractive, and sexy, and not a failure, etc.” to try to help her with her confidence after she spoke to him about dealing with a variety of issues, including truancy and being pressured to take drugs and drink alcohol. The decision, he said, was a “very bad judgement call,” adding that he did communicate that an intimate relationship between the two would not happen given her age and because they were distant relatives, the Times reported.
As for the allegations of physical contact, Striegel denied the claim, telling the Times “no charges in that regard were even filed. The only thing I was ever charged with were words in an email.”
At first, Black defended hiring Striegel, saying that he understood why people might be upset but that he “personally chose to help a friend” after getting”caught up in a bad situation versus something lecherous.” Er … huh? Munn objected to the idea that the choice only impacted Black:
— O M (@oliviamunn) September 6, 2018
In addition to this statement, the @latimes also reported that Wilder said Shane was “aware of the facts” of his arrest. He made a “personal choice” to continually work with a convicted sex offender, but I didn’t have a choice. That decision was made for me. And that’s not okay. https://t.co/AHAyV19tJq
— O M (@oliviamunn) September 6, 2018
That had Black backpedaling at the premiere, claiming that Striegel/Wilder had misled him about the incident. Perhaps, but … wouldn’t it have been a good idea to find out first? Munn seemed pretty capable of figuring it out, as did the Los Angeles Times. The studio claimed that legal issues prevent them from performing background checks on actors (maybe a SAG contract clause?), but they’d normally rely on the director and casting director for vetting anyway.
There may well be an argument for redemption for those convicted of crimes when it comes to employment. That would, however, have to include public acknowledgment of the offenses and a demonstrated commitment to repentance, and it almost certainly wouldn’t apply to those who committed sex crimes against minors — especially in working environments where minors are regularly employed.
It’s tough to take Hollywood’s commitment to prevent sexual predation seriously when directors cast sex offenders on the basis of personal friendship. It sounds a lot like business as usual in the entertainment industry, making The Predator an ironically apt title under the circumstances.