2021 Wrapped: 3 Totally Unexpected Events That May Reshape Hollywood for Years

·7 min read

The year 2021 started out better than it ended, with the COVID vaccine on its way in and Donald Trump on his way out.

But things turned dark fast. The insurrection at our nation’s Capitol cast a shadow over the months to come. In fact, it is hard to assess the year outside of that ominous and historic event and the ongoing pandemic that has colored every other aspect of life in 2021.

Nonetheless, a lot of things happened in the world of entertainment, some of them pretty damn shocking. Here’s my wrap-up of the things that we should plan on remembering from this strange and uncertain year.

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Clockwise from top left: Former Time’s Up board members Shonda Rhimes, Eva Longoria, Katie McGrath and Hilary Rosen (Photos by Getty Images)
  1. Time’s Up imploded.

I still can’t believe this happened. The star-studded, politically prestigious organization that sprang up in the wake of the #MeToo movement imploded, practically overnight.

The creation of the group in 2018 — led by prominent Hollywood figures like showrunner Shonda Rhimes, producer Katie McGrath, actress Eva Longoria and others — was an incredibly important show of force by famous women on behalf of victims of sexual harassment and assault of every class and background, and one of the most potent movements outside of politics to happen on behalf of women in decades.

But the group’s first CEO had to step down after revelations that her son might have sexual misconduct in his past. Then a new team came in with seemingly impeccable credentials: Tina Tchen and Roberta Kaplan had Democratic Party pedigrees and a lifetime of legal work and activism. But they were forced to resign in late summer after it was revealed that they had advised then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on how to respond to his own sexual misconduct scandal.

As I wrote back in September: “With the resignation of virtually the entire board of directors — including showrunner Shonda Rimes, producer Katie McGrath, lawyer Nina Shaw, actress Eva Longoria and political mover-and-shaker Hilary Rosen — the idea that a group of powerful Hollywood women, united in their purpose to protect women from all walks of life from a pervasive culture of sexual predation, has died.”

That might have seemed extreme at the moment, but it was accurate. The global leadership group was dissolved with the stroke of an email, and is effectively gone, to the dismay of female activists everywhere. (One wonders how Time’s Up might have been leveraged on behalf of the assault on abortion rights.)

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HFPA leaders Meher Tatna, Ali Sar and Helen Hoehne at the 2021 ceremony (NBC)

2. The Golden Globes bowed to calls for reform.

Before this year, I’d have said that any significant reform of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would happen when pigs fly. I mean, the group’s shortcomings had been an open secret in Hollywood for decades. I’d probably personally written a dozen stories over the last 20 years about Golden Globes voters’ history of corruption, bad behavior, infighting, self-dealing, back-stabbing, tattle-taling, insularity — as well as its glaring lack of diversity and transparency. (This in The Washington Post back in 1996; this in 2005 in the New York Times; an op-ed in The L.A. Times in 2008 in which I wrote: “The Globes have long been the entertainment industry’s dirty little secret. At the heart of the con is the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the tiny, cliquish group of foreign entertainment journalists — and I use each of those terms liberally — whose votes determine the winners.” And of course on TheWrap about sexual harassment here and lack of diversity here. Have I missed something from this tiny group of quasi-journalists that Hollywood loved as its favorite awards marketing tool?)

It was an investigative piece by the L.A. Times that resurfaced this reporting and advanced it with a focus on the lack of a single Black member that sparked an outcry so massive that the group finally publicly admitted its need to change. Which it stated during the 2021 telecast, no less.

But it seemed too little too late. Longtime broadcast partner NBC expressed “Casablanca”-like “shock” at the problems within the HFPA and canceled the 2022 show. That was a necessary concession to reality after a group of 70 powerful Hollywood publicists had banded together for a boycott by their clients, the stars of this industry, of any HFPA press conferences or other events unless meaningful reforms were instituted.

It’s not at all clear that the HFPA has changed, despite adding 21 new members, including people of color. The reports of self-dealing continue. Two members resigned in disgust. And the last ugly twist was that the owner of the company that produces the Golden Globes, MRC’s Todd Boehly, had suddenly taken over as CEO of the nonprofit group. He would love to make all these problems go away and get his awards show back on the air by taking the group private. For now, that seems like a non-starter. We shall see.

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A candlelight vigil for cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

3. Alec Baldwin shot someone dead on a set.

I know, he didn’t do it on purpose. It was a tragic accident. But the reality is, Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a live bullet during a rehearsal for the indie Western “Rust.” That fact is still hard to write, and hard to believe.

“We need some help,” a distraught script supervisor Mamie Mitchell told the 911 operator, according to the transcript, just moments after director Joel Souza reeled and Hutchins crumpled to the ground. “Our director and our camerawoman have been shot!” (Mitchell later sued Baldwin and the other producers for negligence.)

A million fingers got pointed in every direction after the tragedy, including at the armorer, the producers, the first assistant director and of course Baldwin himself, who was both a producer on the film as well as the actor who fired the fateful shot. The star tried to settle the matter by telling ABC News that someone was responsible, but it “definitely” was not him.

Here’s the truth: The industry has not recovered from this shocking event, and may not anytime soon. It isn’t it just the tight-knit “below the line” community of crew members who are deeply traumatized by this tragedy. It’s the entire independent film world, many of whom knew Hutchins and recognized her as a rising talent. And the totality of the entertainment world is impacted, as a debate rages over on-set safety, including calls to ban all real guns from sets permanently.

No good answers reverberate in this tragedy. But the ripple effects will be felt for years to come.

Many other significant things happened in 2021 – including the fact that Cancel Culture got even uglier.

  • #MeToo got somehow tangled up in getting canceled, so that stars like Marilyn Manson and Armie Hammer – accused of sexual assault and worse (cannibalism counts as worse, sorry) – were dropped from work projects. Shia LaBeouf was sued by his former girlfriend Twigs for sexual abuse. Chris Noth was accused of rape as a new “Sex and the City” spinoff series appeared on HBO — and he was immediately dropped by his agency as well as from CBS’ “The Equalizer.” (All three men have denied wrongdoing.) The reckoning reckoned on.

  • A different strain of Cancel Culture happened: Ellen DeGeneres, who announced an end to her daytime show after reports of a toxic work culture emerged. Sharon Osbourne got bounced from “The Talk” after getting into racialized debate with her co-host Sheryl Underwood. The momentum of these culture clashes doesn’t seem to be going away.

  • Oh yes, and the speed of fallout from critical reporting continued to accelerate as Carlos Watson’s Ozy Media disappeared in the space of one week.

That’s my wrap on 2021. I’m exhausted and glad it’s over. Done.