“There's an iceberg of child sex abuse in Hollywood and you're starting to see it come to the surface.” So says Gabe Hoffman, executive producer of an explosive new documentary, which reveals perpetrators and victims alike and is due to hit UK cinemas later this year.
Some big names in the US entertainment industry have broken their silence and are speaking about how they were abused. The latest to come forward was actress Ashley Judd who poured her heart out about how she was sexually harassed by an “admired-slash-reviled” US studio boss. Eighties child star Corey Feldman has also been very vocal about being molested and the fact that paedophilia is “the number one problem in Hollywood”. But it is very rare that an abuser is named, and most cases result in a settlement out of court, thus keeping the perpetrators out of the limelight.
An Open Secret, directed by Oscar- nominated Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil, 2006), lifts the lid on convicted paedophiles who were (and in some cases still are) working in Hollywood. They include talent manager Marty Weiss, who pleaded no contest to two counts of committing lewd acts on a child and is seen in the film attending family gatherings with one of his victims. There is also Bob Villard, a talent manager who represented a young Leonardo DiCaprio, who pleaded no contest to a similar charge, and actor Brian Peck, star of two X-Men movies, who served 16 months in prison for admitting two counts of abusing a Nickelodeon child star, but is now back working in the industry, including a recent stint on the show Anger Management.
Forthright statements from alleged victims of abuse are scattered throughout the film. Their stories are in turn disturbing and depressing. The details of the grooming processes make for particularly difficult viewing.
“It's often a funnel situation… The abuser has an array of children (aged 6 to 18) in their orbit, but they don't abuse all of them. They're looking at the herd and then they pick off the weaker ones. They start by asking them questions about their sexuality (have they kissed a boy or girl, etc), then they will ask them to keep secrets. So with actors they'd get them to say a curse word and not tell their mum. If they fail to keep the secret they're not chosen. Gradually the group gets smaller. Then they show them a questionable porn film, touch them and hug them. As the grooming process goes on, it gets to the bottom of the funnel until they have a small group of children they'll abuse,” explains Amy Henry, co-founder of Biz Parentz, a charity which protects and supports children in the entertainment industry and their parents. It supplied the makers of An Open Secret with files of names and evidence.
The film-makers spent months tracking down those involved, with the help of private investigators. They then talked to victims to encourage them to speak on camera. Henry points out there are 10 times as many victims in their records who chose not appear, including a major Hollywood actor. “If a big name star was to come forward and talk about the abuse they suffered and name the abuser that could be a game-changer, but at the peak of his career and earning millions a film he would probably have to forfeit his career to do so,” says co-executive producer Matt Valentinas.
He is convinced that there are hundreds of other cases of people who are afraid to come forward, but hopes that in six months or even 10 years from now they might think “screw it, I'm ready to tell the truth”. In the meantime, abuse is likely to continue, albeit with less frequency than in years gone by, thanks to fingerprint checks of those working in the industry and organisations like Biz Parents.
“We want the film to be seen by as many people as possible, so that it can educate parents and children about the dangers of child abuse, signs to look out for and make them realise if it is happening to them,” says Henry.
Getting the message out has been hampered by the film's troubled marketing and distribution process. Several film festivals rejected the documentary; it was given an R rating (later changed to PG-13 when the word “blowjob” was changed to “job”) and it flopped at the US box office. The final nail in the coffin was a dispute involving the producers claiming that Berg had not done enough media interviews to promote the film. She cited a busy schedule filming a documentary about the life of Janis Joplin and promoting her film Prophet's Prey.
The film is slowly gathering traction, with screenings in Los Angeles and Dallas and positive reviews. The producers are hopeful of success in Europe, particularly in the UK. “It is at he forefront in tackling this issue, post-Jimmy Savile,” says Valentinas. “You guys have open discussions about abuse and British reporters are more intrepid. Some of our press is so entrenched with the Hollywood corporations that they can't report on these issues. It's going to take exposure of this film and reports in the UK to tackle this subject head-on.”
'An Open Secret' is released later this year
- More about:
- Amy Berg
- Ashley Judd
- Corey Feldman
- Marty Weiss
- Brian Peck
- Leonardo Dicaprio
- Bob Villard