Have you been following the Rebel Wilson defamation case in Australia? I have because I find it super interesting that she is asserting damages to her reputation over a series of stories in a tabloid. It’s not about a drug problem or health scare or love triangle, but rather rumours about her age, background and name.
Sarah wrote about it a couple of years ago and it’s certainly worth going back to read about the original issue at the time (it centered around her age, upbringing and real name). As Sarah wrote then, the allegations were extremely off-brand for Rebel, who presented as this kooky, vivacious, and most important, candid comedic force. She was supposed to be unpolished and raw, and the allegations (that she grew up posh and was manipulating her background to appear more relatable) bumped up against that. And of course, the age issue is always a pressing one for women, no matter their genre or medium, they are generally working against the “too old” clock.
So Rebel sued in Australia and the stories originated from Bauer Media (specifically Woman's Day, Australian Women's Weekly, NW and OK! magazine, per the Daily Mail) but were picked up everywhere. There are a few reasons I think Rebel decided to pursue this (and take time out of her career, attending trial and spending a fortune on lawyers). First off, she said she is fighting back against “tall poppy syndrome.” This is very common outside of the US – Canadians, Australians, and Brits often refer to this phenomenon when one of their own becomes famous in the US and then everyone at home talks about what a sell-out/fraud they are.
Rebel also said that the tabloid tracked down a “jealous” ex-friend from high school who fed them stories and, in that way, I can understand her motivation. She doesn’t want her story written by someone who doesn’t know her anymore (this is similar to the rogue relative many celebs content with) and, on a petty level, who wouldn’t want to prove a sh-t talking old friend wrong?
The other, likely more pressing issue, is that Rebel’s team asserts she was fired from two animation jobs when the stories hit. First, Kung Fu Panda 3 and second, Trolls. This also piqued my curiosity. Are DreamWorks execs reading Australian tabloids? Probably not, but in the digital age, stories that are distributed worldwide through syndication, content sharing, links etc, there are SEO experts who work for online publications whose job it is to find these stories. It’s not unfathomable that people who were looking to work with her could have found these stories.
But doesn’t suing give the story more life? Yes, for sure. Pursuing it was quite a risk for Rebel because not only would she have to answer to all the rumours but if she lost, it would have gotten 10X the press. Suing and losing could legitimately ruin someone’s reputation. This is why many of them (Ashton Kutcher, Chris Maritn, Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris) threaten to sue but don’t follow through; they are hoping the threat is enough to make it go away, or at least delegitimize the story.
The gamble paid off though as she won – unanimously on 40 questions. She says she is set to return to the US to work on a movie with Liam Hemsworth and try to book more roles. (Out of curiosity, I checked some of the same tabloids for stories on Liam. They mostly center around Miley.) Her team is probably securing her as many auditions as possible right now. My advice would be get her back on TV! Super Fun Night didn’t get the shot it deserved.
But there’s another aspect to this: reporting isn’t just generated from traditional media. Fans are constantly working to unearth the most random sh-t (see Lainey’s post on Lorde and onion rings today – I f-cking love onion rings). That is a completely unplanned narrative, but it won’t hurt Lorde. It’s fun and endearing.
Stamping out rumours is a game of whack-a-mole and, as any good PR person knows, you never want to be in a position where you have to answer to stories that are already out there. You need to see what is coming, even in the blind spots. The easy answer is the truth can’t be twisted, but actors are creative people who are paid to be someone else. There’s a fantastical element to their job – how boring would it be if everyone had to recite their resume in every interview? You can see how some would feel the pressure to tweak their life story. We all create narratives for ourselves, we just don’t have reporters who care.
In the short term, this is a victory for Rebel as she was able to prove the tabloids were motivated by maliciousness. But in the long term, this is a case study about transparency in branding for celebrities. If the reporter hadn’t written about the age discrepancy, someone else would have found her old high school annual, or a driver’s license picture --something. Found her childhood home or dug up her birth certificate. And posted it to social media. Then what?