Earlier this year in April, I was attending CinemaCon. It was my first time at the trade show and event for the world of theater owners. It was a fascinating experience — mainly because I spent almost a week in Las Vegas and that is five days too many.
During the day of the Warner Bros. presentation, the intensity of the writer’s strike was in the air and what is now Warner Media Discovery had been put through the media ringer following a merger that resulted in a mess of problems including layoffs and controversial cost-cutting. Nonetheless, the show at CinemaCon must go on and when I saw that there was going to be an appearance by Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, I became that meme of RuPaul during an episode of Drag Race where she says…
A person from NATO (not that one, the other one: National Association of Theater Owners, they host the whole shebang) stepped out on stage. By the way, NATO is great. Fantastic hosts and they put together a fine function.
When they introduced David Zaslav, they said something to the effect of: “Now here is the CEO of one of the only studios that still value theatrical releases, David Zaslav!” He stepped out on to the stage to a great amount of applause and while all this was happening, one thing that was said in his intro was still echoing in my head: “one of the only studios that still value theatrical releases.”
Naturally, I tweeted:
So yesterday at CinemaCon, Warner Bros. was introduced as one of the only studios that "value theatrical releases"…
I couldn't help but think of… pic.twitter.com/a0nDWkB3FC
— Dino-Ray (@DinoRay) April 26, 2023
Basically, I was like, “Hey WB, this you?”
I mean, of course, they aren’t gonna answer someone like me. But it is a valid question and, ideally, this can lead to a very nuanced and explanatory conversation where both sides come to an understanding and respect for each other. Unfortunately, this is Hollywood. The land of glamorous mess.
The Warner Bros. day also included an early screening of The Flash to which I knee-jerkingly rolled my eyes at. The DC movie had been gestating for the longest time to the point where no one knew if it was going to happen — but it did. And, just to reiterate, Batgirl was never released and it starred a Latinx actress Leslie Grace as well as Filipina trans actress Ivory Aquino who, as far as I know, don’t have any charges of assault filed against them. Ezra Miller, the titular star of The Flash, however, is another story.
A rising star in Hollywood, I first saw Miller in the 2011 indie We Need To Talk About Kevin where he starred as a troubled teen alongside Tilda Swinton, who played their mother. Their performance was chilling and I felt that Miller was going to be a star — and they quickly became one. When Miller fully stepped into their queerness in their Perks of Being a Wallflower era, it was as if they were on the road to becoming this amazing and very talented queer icon. Then, Miller’s life started to unravel and get a whole lotta messy.
In a video released in April 2020, Miller appears to be choking a woman in a bar in Reykjavik, Iceland. In March 2022, they were arrested in Hawaii for disorderly conduct and harassment at a karaoke bar. Miller was arrested again in Hawaii for second-degree assault for throwing a chair at a woman. They were also accused of grooming minors by multiple people. Miller has quite a long list of struggles, allegations, and problems that premiering a tentpole DC superhero movie is not going to fix. Yet, here we are with The Flash destined to be a box office success while Batgirl collects dust. I mean, even if Batgirl is bad, we deserve to see it. I don’t want to start talking about some of these other DC movies that got multi-million dollar backing that turned out to be turds. (Can you tell I really want to watch this Batgirl movie?)
Nonetheless, Miller publicly apologized for their behavior and said they were seeking treatment for “complex mental health issues”.
When director Andy Muschietti stepped out on stage at CinemaCon, he seemed a bit nervous. I would be too. He talked about Miller and how they were an incredible actor to work with and he spoke highly of them.
Recently, Miller made a rare appearance at The Flash premiere and took the stage to praise everyone who participated in the film. They said they wanted to thank “everybody who supported us in our lives and the world and everybody who supported me in my life…”
In addition, Muschietti addressed Miller’s mental health at a post-screening Q&A of the movie saying, “Ezra is well now…We’re all hoping that they get better. [They’re] taking the steps to recovery, [they’re] dealing with mental health issues, but [they’re] well. We talked to them not too long ago, and [they’re] very committed to get better.”
James Gunn said The Flash is a reset to what is now called the DCU. Gunn, along with his partner in crime Peter Safran are set to kick off a new DC era from here on out with Blue Beetle and Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom dovetailing into Gunn and Safran’s master plan.
At CinemaCon, Warner Bros. played us the new trailer which was clearly in line with the marketing of this film which screamed: “Look this movie has the OG Batman and a Latinx Supergirl!” and in a very pleasant aside says, “It also has that actor who plays the Flash.”
It’s clear that Warner Bros. had a plan on how they were going to navigate this. It’s not their first rodeo when it comes to this kind of thing. Remember the Justice League Ray Fisher vs. Joss Whedon story? Also, let’s not forget when Kevin Tsujihara stepped down from his role as chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment after sexual misconduct allegations. It keeps in line with the grand tradition of Hollywood protecting toxic people and preserving practices that don’t serve a community beyond those who created the system.
For me, the more severe the crime and the more people you hurt, the more difficult it is for me to separate the art from the artist. In the case of Miller, it’s bad. Almost R. Kelly-level bad. I was prepared to boycott The Flash screening because of this, but felt it was my job to watch it as a “journalist”. It was my civic duty — and yes, it was a good movie. It was not great, but decent and not a disaster. Then again, the bar for DC movies is arguably low.
I was reading reactions tweets after the film and someone exclaimed “It was the greatest superhero movie I’ve ever seen!” It was clear that this person wanted to get a pull quote in the next trailer. In fact, the reactions were overwhelmingly positive from the press. The theater owners and managers, which compromised the majority of the CinemaCon attendees went absolutely crazy for The Flash.
It hit me right then: people in this audience don’t care that Ezra Miller was accused of grooming minors nor do they care that they were caught on film choking a woman. In fact, they may not even know that any of these problems exist with this movie. This audience cares more about getting butts in the seats of their theaters so that they can make a hefty amount of coin rather than Miller’s indiscretions. Gotta love capitalism.
This movie celebrates a beloved character that was played with such appeal and charisma by this actor who was on the verge of becoming a superstar. The beloved character remains, but the actor is no longer what they used to be. They are broken and trying to get help — but is that even enough? For me, not really.
Yes, The Flash is a decent movie, but The Flash is more than Miller. It’s Michael Keaton as Batman; it’s the incredible Sasha Calle as Supergirl; it’s Kiersey Clemons; it’s a random cameo from Wonder Woman; it’s a weird digital version of Michael Shannon as Zod; it’s a cameo of the what-would-have-been Superman movie with Nicolas Cage; it’s the hundreds and hundreds of other people who worked on this movie — there are a lot of good things about this movie. Even so, it’s difficult to untether the words “grooming” and “assault” from “Ezra Miller”. That said, just because it’s good, doesn’t mean I have to like that it exists.
This is wild, but it’s the way Hollywood works. In Maureen Ryan’s book, “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, And A Call For Change In Hollywood”, she writes about alleged serial abuser CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves, who eventually exited his post: “The insulation and protection of Moonves (who has denied all allegations and misconduct) and men like him has not been an inevitability either. These events are the results of choices that specific people, institutions, and organizations have made, again and again.”
Miller is ultimately a human being and deserves help and treatment — that is one thing. Do they deserve a second chance? It looks like they already got it. That said, will Disney give Jonathan Majors and Tenoch Huerta a second chance?
Majors plays the new Marvel Cinematic Universe baddie Kang and is still keeping a low profile after a very public domestic dispute which led to more women coming forward accusing him of abuse. Recently, Wakanda Forever star Huerta was accused of sexual assault and has since denied the allegations. Disney, true to its lock and key mentality has remained silent on the ordeal and I’m pretty sure they know they have eyes darting at them.
Releasing The Flash with a big-budget marketing campaign was a choice. Having Ezra Miller come to the premiere was a choice. Having him introduce the film was a choice. Having a sneak preview of The Flash CinemaCon was a choice. Also, Miller made the choice to continue on this journey and, despite their problematic history, they have the support from Warner Bros. and now audiences worldwide as the film is on on track for a four-day Juneteenth holiday weekend total of $72+ million, topping the box office on its opening weekend.
Everything is working exactly how it is supposed to be working — and maybe that’s the problem.