Netflix’s Sexual Harassment Problems [Update]

Kevin Spacey with Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos - Getty Images

Many questions remain unanswered about the culpability of Netflix and Media Rights Capital in the furtherance of sexual abuse during the production of House of Cards.

How much did Netflix know about Kevin Spacey’s well-known sexually aggressive proclivities? What measures did MRC executives take to cover them up? How much legal liability are Netflix and Media Rights Capital (MRC) exposed to for fostering a hostile work environment?

Three days before the allegations against Spacey, Netflix settled a case involving a former HR director accusing the company of routinely “tolerating harassment and discrimination” by its executives.

Netflix denied the claims and forced the case to arbitration. However, days before the news about Spacey was released, Netflix quickly settled the $1.5 million action, but demanded silence on the matter.

The claimant stressed that Netflix’s “veneer of a perfect disruptive, progressive” business is an illusion.

Prophet To Pariah

Now that the crown jewel of Netflix’s original content offerings is an albatross around the streaming giant’s neck, how can the company maintain the trust of subscribers in light of daily revelations about Spacey’s on-set actions?

For years, House of Cards was the impetus for attracting new subscribers to Netflix. Almost all of the company’s domestic and international marketing campaigns heavily featured the smash hit, which captured the public’s imagination in 2013.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, the fourth season of House of Cards helped secure an additional two million subscribers.

Too Little Too Late

According to a media analyst at Wedbush Securities, the speed at which Netflix responded to the allegations will work in the company’s favor. He went on to say, “I think Netflix is handling this extremely well. This is what you want them to do from an investor’s point of view.”

It’s easy to cut loose an anchor around your neck before drowning, and that’s precisely what Netflix, MRC, and Creative Artists Agency (CAA) have done, but only after public revelations.

What takes courage is directly addressing a deplorable situation with action before the public learns about it. That’s what leaders do.

Netflix, CAA, and Media Rights Capital shouldn’t be praised for taking swift action, but rather derided for nurturing widespread abuse by their collective cash cow.

How many executives, producers, bankers, and lawyers knew first-hand about the actions of Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and Kevin Spacey, but looked the other way because they were making money?

Public Revelations

Numerous accounts of Spacey’s behavior were initiated when BuzzFeed News published an article about accusations of sexual advances towards then 14-year-old Anthony Rapp in 1985. Since their initial report, BuzzFeed has interviewed multiple sources about specific examples during production.

Heather Unruh, a former Boston TV news anchor, alleged Wednesday that Spacey put his hands down her son’s pants and grabbed his genitals at a restaurant on Nantucket.

In addition to BuzzFeed’s sources, eight people have told CNN on the basis of anonymity that Netflix and Media Rights Capital facilitated a toxic work environment.

All eight people don’t want to go on record for fear of professional retaliation.

These eight sources of CNN describe Spacey’s actions as predatory, which included nonconsensual touching and crude comments towards young male production staffers. A crewmember that worked on the show for all six seasons said that Spacey routinely harassed and touched him.

House of Cards season six production has been shut down indefinitely.

Public Denials

When asked if it was possible that the show’s directors and producers had not known about numerous incidents, one source told BuzzFeed that it was “Bullshit. Utter bullshit. 100%”

Unsurprisingly, the show’s creator and showrunner Beau Willimon took to Twitter to claim his ignorance about the abuse.

Although Willimon left the show after the fourth season, it’s beyond belief that he and many other senior executives were not aware of Spacey’s actions and notorious reputation dating back decades.

A crewmember said, “I saw that Beau said he had no idea, which I know is completely false.” He added, “they had production meetings about Spacey’s behavior towards crew and cast, and it never made it any further than that. It was like a joke.”

In a written statement, Netflix said the company was not aware of incidents involving Spacey on-set.