Placido Domingo scandal: concerts canceled after accusations of sexual harassment

August 13, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

Placido Domingo (Photo by Elekes Andor)

Placido Domingo, one of the most famous opera singers of all time, has joined the growing list of people getting career backlash after being accused of sexual misconduct. On August 13, 2019, the Associated Press (AP) published a news report with several female (mostly anonymous) accusers saying that Domingo (who is 78) sexually harassed them years ago with unwanted sexual advances, under the guise of helping them with their careers. After the report was published, some of Domingo’s concerts were canceled. The report claims that Domingo’s misconduct goes back several decades, and he allegedly had a pattern of targeting young women, especially those who worked in opera, at the beginning of their careers.

Domingo issued this statement to AP: “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as 30 years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate. However, I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are—and should be—measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards.”

Nine women interviewed for the article said that Domingo kissed them on the mouth or touched them sexually without their consent, and he allegedly pressured them constantly to go out to dinner with him or be alone with him. Those who refused his advances say that they believe Domingo used his influence to damage their careers. An additional six women told AP that Domingo made them uncomfortable with his repeated, unwanted “touchy feely” actions, while nearly 36 people interviewed for the article said they personally witnessed Domingo’s inappropriate behavior with women. Most of the sources describe Domingo’s alleged sexual misconduct as an open secret, and women (especially young women) were warned not to be alone with him.

According to the Associated Press, after this news report was published, the Philadelphia Orchestra and San Francisco Opera canceled Domingo’s upcoming performances. The Los Angeles Opera announced that it has opened an investigation to look into allegations against Domingo. New York’s Metropolitan Opera told AP that it would await the results of LA Opera’s investigation before deciding if Domingo’s New York Metropolitan Opera performances would be canceled.

Victoria’s Secret blasted by models, who sign open letter demanding protection from sexual misconduct in workplace

August 7, 2019

by Daphne Sorenson

Victoria’s Secret models backstage at the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. (Photo by Heidi Gutman/ABC)

More than 100 models and several of their allies (including Models Alliance and Times Up) have signed an open letter to Victoria’s Secret CEO John Mehas to demand an end to the sexual abuse and sexual harassment that has allegedly been running rampant against Victoria’s Secret models.

The letter reads, in part: “In the past few weeks, we have heard numerous allegations of sexual assault, alleged rape, and sex trafficking of models and aspiring models. While these allegations may not have been aimed at Victoria’s Secret directly, it is clear that your company has a crucial role to play in remedying the situation.  From the headlines about L Brands CEO Leslie Wexner’s close friend and associate, Jeffrey Epstein, to the allegations of sexual misconduct by photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere, and Greg Kadel, it is deeply disturbing that these men appear to have leveraged their working relationships with Victoria’s Secret to lure and abuse vulnerable girls.”

Most of the models who signed the open letter are not very well-known in the industry or are well-known models who are over the age of 30, such as Milla Jovovich, Emme, Doutzen Kroes, and Carolyn Murphy. Noticeably absent from the letter are supermodels who’ve been steadily employed by Victoria’s Secret in recent years, such as Gigi Hadid, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Behati Prinsloo, Jasmine Tookes, Barbara Palvin and Taylor Hill. Adriana Lima, who retired from Victoria’s Secret runway shows in 2018, was also not on the list of people who signed the letter.

L Brands (based in Columbus, Ohio) is the parent company of Victoria’s Secret.  The letter was published just two days after L Brands chief marketing officer Ed Razek publicly announced he was leaving the company. Wexner and Razek had close ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was arrested again in July 2019, for sex crimes, specifically, for sex trafficking of women and underage girls.

Razek came under fire in 2018, when he said in a Vogue interview that Victoria’s Secret was not interested in hiring plus-sized or transgender models. In August 2019, Victoria’s Secret hired its first transgender model: Valentina Sampaio, who posted the news on her Instagram account.

The open letter blasting Victoria’s Secret is the latest blow to the company, which officially canceled the 2019 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show only a few months after it was announced that the show would not be televised anymore. Victoria’s Secret and its Pink spinoff brand have also been experiencing a sharp decline in sales in recent years.

August 10, 2019 UPDATE: Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City on August 10, 2019. According to the Associated Press, he died in the morning of an apparent suicide by hanging. The Associated Press also reports that although Epstein, who was 66, had been on suicide watch in the weeks leading up to his death, he was not on suicide watch at the time he was found dead. He had been denied bail while waiting to be put on trial on charges of sex-trafficking of underage girls. Of course, Epstein’s sudden death has fueled conspiracy theories that he might have been murdered to prevent him from exposing who his rich and powerful clients were in the sex crimes that Epstein was accused of committing.

R. Kelly scandal: Kelly charged with multiple counts of sexual assault

February 22, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

For the second time in his life, disgraced R&B singer R. Kelly, 52, is facing criminal charges for sex crimes. On February 22, 2019, the Cook County district attorney’s office in Illinois announced that Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims in incidents that took place between 1998 and 2010. According to the Associated Press, three of the alleged victims were minors at the time the alleged abuse occurred. Kelly (whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly) is expected to appear at a bond hearing on February 23, and he will have his first court date on March 8. Kelly’s hometown is Chicago, but he has been living mainly in the Atlanta area for the past several years.

Kelly was arrested for multiple counts of child pornography in 2002. At the center of the trial was a videotape made in 2001 which prosecutors said showed Kelly having sex with a then-14-year-old girl, who was the daughter of one of Kelly’s band members. Kelly, who denied all the charges and said he wasn’t the man in the video, didn’t go on trial until 2008, and he was acquitted of all charges. The female in the sex video refused to testify in the trial, and some of the jurors later said in interviews that they could not convict Kelly without her testimony.

Kelly has admitted to settling numerous lawsuits over the years in which he was accused of sexual abuse,  but he has always denied all claims of sexual abuse against him. The Grammy-winning Kelly is best known for his hits “I Believe I Can Fly,” “Bump N’ Grind” and “Step in the Name of Love.”

Although Kelly seemingly survived the scandal in the years since the trial, the #MeToo and Times Up movements re-ignited protests against Kelly. A grass-roots movement called #MuteRKelly was formed in 2018, and was successful in getting several of Kelly’s concerts canceled and his music banned from some radio stations and streaming services. #MuteRKelly also spearheaded the pressure against Sony Music to cut ties with Kelly.

But the tipping point in the tide against Kelly was the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired in January 2019. “Surviving R. Kelly” had interviews with more than 25 people (including his ex-wife Andrea) who either claimed to be victims of harrowing sexual abuse, were related to victims, or were former associates who saw the alleged abuse firsthand. The miniseries reiterated accusations that Kelly is a serial rapist/abuser whose known crimes go as far back as the 1990s, he has an obsession with underage girls, and he is currently abusing women in a “sex cult” environment. After “Surviving R. Kelly” aired and multiple groups staged protests outside of Sony Music’s offices, Sony Music dropped R. Kelly and made it public on January 18, 2019.

UPDATE: Kelly surrendered to authorities in Chicago on February 22, 2019 and pleaded not guilty. He was arrested again on March 6, 2019, for not paying $161,000 in child support to his ex-wife Andrea. Kelly was released on bail after an anonymous donor paid his child support and his bond. Before his arrest for not paying child support, Kelly gave an emotionally unhinged and paranoid interview with CBS News’ Gayle King, in which he shouted that he was innocent of all allegations, and he angrily stated he was the target of a conspiracy.

JULY 16, 2019 UPDATE:  R. Kelly was arrested again for an additional 18 counts, including federal sex-trafficking charges, on July 12, 2019. At a court hearing in Chicago on July 16, 2019, he pleaded not guilty and was ordered to be held without bond.

R. Kelly dropped by Sony Music; his ex-manager arrested for making terroristic threats

January 18, 2019

by Colleen McGregor

After facing immense public backlash, Sony Music has dropped Grammy-winning R&B singer R. Kelly, who has been accused of committing sexual abuse against women and underage girls as far back as the 1990s but has not yet been convicted of any such crimes. Kelly has repeatedly denied all allegations against him. According to Variety, Sony Music had been trying to sever ties with Kelly for several weeks, and made it official on January 18, 2019, when the company removed Kelly from its website. Sony has not yet issued a statement about dropping Kelly or the controversy over Kelly. Sony Music is the parent company of RCA Records, Kelly’s longtime record company. Kelly, whose full name is Robert Sylvester Kelly, was previously signed to Jive Records, which Sony shuttered in 2011. Jive’s former artists transferred to RCA. Although Kelly will not be releasing new music with RCA/Sony, his back catalog will remain with the record company. His last album with RCA/Sony was “12 Nights of Christmas,” which was released in 2016.

Meanwhile, Henry James Mason, a former manager of R. Kelly, turned himself into authorities on January 18 in Henry County, Georgia, for charges of threatening to kill Timothy Savage, the father of one of Kelly’s alleged victims, as well as threatening to harm members of the Savage family. Mason, who had a warrant out of his arrest since July 2018, has been released on $10,000 bail, according to Variety.

Timothy and JonJelyn Savage in "Surviving R. Kelly"
Timothy and JonJelyn Savage in “Surviving R. Kelly” (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

Over the years, Kelly, who is 52, has been the subject of numerous stories of abuse against females, particularly underage girls. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges in which he was accused of videotaping himself having sex with and urinating on a then-14-year-old girl in 2001. Kelly was arrested for the crime in 2002, after the video was leaked to the public and widely bootlegged. The girl who was identified in the video refused to testify in the trial and denied that she was in the video. Complicating matters, the girl’s father worked for R. Kelly as a guitarist in his band before and after the trial. There were several people who knew the girl who testified at the trial, and most of them said that she was the girl in the video. (Her parents did not testify at the trial.) According to what a few of the jurors later told the media after the trial, the lack of testimony from the alleged victim was the main reason why they came to a “not guilty” verdict.

In 1994, Kelly had an illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time they eloped, but who allegedly lied about her age (saying she was 18) at the time of the marriage ceremony. The marriage, which is on public record, was later annulled in 1995.

Sparkle, a former R. Kelly protégée, in “Surviving R. Kelly.” She says her niece was the underage girl in R. Kelly’s notorious sex video that got him arrested for child pornography in 2002. (Photo courtesy of Lifetime)

In 2017, BuzzFeed reported allegations from numerous people who said that Kelly had brainwashed women into becoming his sex slaves and is controlling them like a cult leader. Later that year, when the #MeToo movement became a major social force, a #MuteRKelly activist group was formed to urge cancellations and boycotting of all things related to R. Kelly. #MuteRKelly has been successful in getting several R. Kelly concerts cancelled. The #MuteRKelly movement led to the BBC Three network in the United Kingdom to do two news investigative specials on R. Kelly in 2018. The parents of the alleged victims who are still living with Kelly, as well as women who used to be sexually involved with Kelly, have also given numerous other media interviews.

However, the most influential tipping point in getting Sony Music to drop R. Kelly seems to be the Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired from January 3 to January 5, 2019, and included harrowing interviews with numerous women, such as his ex-wife Andrea, who say that R. Kelly physically, sexually and emotionally abused them. Most of the women were under the age of 18 when they began their sexual relationships with R. Kelly, and many of them were also interviewed in the BBC Three specials. The women who lived with Kelly said that he was so abusive that he would often starve them, beat them, and force them to engage in degrading sexual acts. Almost all of the women who were in long-term sexual relationships with Kelly said that he would isolate them from their family and friends, and they were afraid to leave him because he threatened their lives. They also said that he had so much control over them that he dictated when they could eat, use the bathroom, and talk to other people.

“Surviving R. Kelly” also included interviews with R. Kelly’s brothers Carey (who spoke out against him) and Bruce Kelly (who is supporting of R. Kelly and is currently in prison for theft and other charges) and R. Kelly’s former protégée Sparkle, whose says her underage niece was in the infamous R. Kelly sex video. Other people who were interviewed included several former business associates (who all confirmed that R. Kelly had sexual relationships with underage girls) and some of the parents who claim that their daughters have been Kelly’s sex slaves. The parents say that because their daughters are adults and have apparently been forced to deny that Kelly abused them, it has been difficult to get authorities to intervene and rescue their daughters. However, “Surviving R. Kelly” did document how Michelle Kramer, one of the mothers of the alleged victims, was able to successfully get her daughter out of R. Kelly’s life.

According to Lifetime, “Surviving R. Kelly” had 1.9 million total viewers, making it Lifetime’s highest-rated new show in two years and highest-rated new unscripted show in three years. “Surviving R. Kelly” was executive produced by dream hampton, Tamara Simmons, Joel Karlsberg and Jesse Daniels for Kreativ Inc. which has a production deal with Bunim/Murray Productions (BMP). Brie Miranda Bryant from Lifetime is also one of the executive producers.

R. Kelly Accusers in “Surviving R. Kelly”

In the wake of “Surviving R. Kelly” and the public outcry for justice to be served, artists such as Lady Gaga and Chance the Rapper removed their collaborations with R. Kelly from streaming and online retail sites, made public apologies for associating with R. Kelly, and voiced their support for the survivors. In addition to having numerous hits as a solo artist (including “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Bump ‘N Grind”), Kelly wrote and/or produced hits for several major stars, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Jay-Z. Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, started out as one of Kelly’s protégées, but parted ways with him after her first album and their marriage debacle.

The pressure against RCA/Sony to drop R. Kelly began increase on January 11, when women’s group UltraViolet hired a plane flying to fly an anti-R. Kelly banner over Sony’s offices in Culver City, California. The banner read “RCA/Sony: Drop Sexual Predator R. Kelly.” Then on January 16, multiple advocacy groups organized a protest outside of Sony Music’s New York City headquarters and delivered a petition reportedly signed by more than 217,000 people to get the record company to sever ties with Kelly.

Les Moonves scandal: Longtime TV executive resigns as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO after sexual assault allegations; wife Julie Chen’s CBS tenure might also end

September 10, 2018

by Colleen McGregor

Longtime TV executive Les Moonves, 68, has exited his position as CBS Corp. chairman/CEO in a cloud of scandal, after The New Yorker published allegations from six women who claimed that he sexually assaulted them by violently forcing them to give him oral sex or sexually harassed them by ruining their careers after they refused his sexual advances. Moonves abruptly resigned after the story was published on September 9, 2018.

The allegations came after six other women accused him of the same misdeeds in the same time period (1980s to early 2000s) in a New Yorker article published in July. At the time, Moonves admitted that he made sexual advances to some of the women, but denied that he forced himself on anyone or retaliated if they refused his advances. The CBS board then voted to keep Moonves in his job while CBS would investigate the allegations. However, the additional number of accusers and the detailed stories that surfaced two months later were apparently too much, and Moonves (who was reportedly negotiating his exit package after the first wave of accusations were made public) stepped down and released this statement:

“For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company. The best part of this journey has been working alongside the dedicated and talented people in this company. Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed. Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am.  Effective immediately I will no longer be Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBS. I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization, the newly comprised board of directors and all of its employees.”

Les Moonves
Les Moonves at the CBS Upfronts in New York City in 2017 (Photo by Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS)

CBS announced that it would donate $20 million of Moonves’ salary to the Time’s Up movement that is aimed at assisting victims of sexual harassment and assault. However, when it was reported that the $20 million would be deducted from an approximate $100 million severance package that Moonves was reportedly getting, it sparked outrage on social media from people who think Moonves should not be receiving any severance pay. More outrage ensued when CBS said it would not release the outcome of the investigation conducted by two law firms hired by CBS to look into the accusations against Moonves.

The irony is that in December 2017, Moonves co-founded the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, which is chaired by Anita Hill.

Julie Chen, Moonves’ second wife whom he married in 2004 after a messy divorce from first wife Nancy, issued a statement after the accusations surfaced in July by saying that her husband was a “moral” man and that she stood by him. Chen and Moonves got romantically involved and openly dated while he was married to his first wife.

Chen, 48, is a co-host of CBS daytime talk show “The Talk” and the host of CBS reality show “Big Brother.” She was absent from “The Talk” on September 10, issuing that statement that she was taking time off to spend with her family. Chen and Moonves’ son Charlie was born in 2009. Moonves has three adult children from his first marriage.

Now that her husband has left his powerful position at CBS under scandalous circumstances, it might be a matter of time before Chen will leave CBS, regardless if the marriage ends in divorce or not. Chen’s career was so inextricably tied to Moonves and his position of power that it might be difficult for her to find work on a similar level at another network.

September 18, 2018 UPDATE: As expected, Chen did not return to “The Talk,” and officially resigned from the show in a videotaped message that aired on the show on September 18. In the message, Chen said that she was leaving “The Talk” to spend time with her husband and their son Charlie. She briefly got tearful during her statement, and she thanked her co-hosts and the rest of “The Talk” team for the time that she spent with them. Chen had been a co-host of “The Talk” since its 2010 debut. The search is on to find the person who will replace Chen on the show. “Dancing With the Stars” judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who has been filling in as a substitute, is considered a frontrunner for the job. Meanwhile, Chen will probably exit CBS once she her contract ends as host of “Big Brother.”