This week in Red Flag Ahoy news, director Cary Joji Fukunaga, best known for the one good season of True Detective and films like Beasts of No Nation and No Time To Die, has been accused of inappropriate behavior by three women. At this point, the question isn’t “who is a creep”, it’s “who ISN’T a creep”, but I gotta tell you, Cary Fukunaga was not on my “might be a creep” bingo card. Though, in hindsight, maybe he should have been, because there was that blip in 2017 when he was reportedly dating Margaret Qualley, who was just 22 at the time, while Fukunaga was 39. While there is a tendency to infantilize 20-somethings that does that whole cohort a disservice, and while relationships with significant age gaps can work, at this point on the timeline, a person in their late 30s with a much younger dating pattern can be a red flag. It always seems to end in some sh-t like this.
There was also the thing where he (allegedly) pressured an actor, Raeden Greer, to do a nude scene in True Detective even though it wasn’t originally in her contract. Greer added she lost the speaking role to an extra who agreed to do the scene and called the experience “disheartening”. I honestly don’t know how I forgot about this, but let the record reflect that Raeden Greer told us who Cary Fukunaga was years ago.
The new allegations come from Rachelle Vinberg, a skateboarder turned actor who starred in the 2018 film Skate Kitchen, and the HBO series Betty, both loosely based on the group of lady skaters to which she belongs. At first, Vinberg didn’t name the man about which she was speaking in a series of Instagram stories, but she ended up revealing it was Fukunaga and that she met him after a casting director scouted her and Fukunaga offered her a paid commercial job. She says they met the “day after [she] turned 18”; for reference, Fukunaga is 21 years her senior. Vinberg also revealed she’s been in therapy and has been diagnosed with PTSD relating to her time with Fukunaga, and she felt she had to speak out because Fukunaga holds himself out as an ally to women, while harming women behind the scenes. That is also what prompted Raeden Greer to speak out.
But wait, it gets worse, because it didn’t end with Vinberg. Hannah and Cailin Loesch, twin sisters who starred in the 2018 Netflix show Maniac, which is directed by Fukunaga, backed up Vinberg, telling their own story of being preyed on by Fukunaga, which you can read here. The highlights: they were 20 when they met Fukunaga on the set of Maniac, they had a three year, “hot-and-cold relationship” with him which included Fukunaga asking how they felt about threesomes and (allegedly) saying “incest is fine if all parties are okay with it” (RED. FLAG.). Ultimately, the twins tried to get Fukunaga to say if he was genuinely interested in Cailin or not, but he wouldn’t, so they finally parted ways, concluding, “Sometimes manipulation is less of a scream and more of a million little whispers”.
The themes present across all stories is that Cary Fukunaga pursues very young women even as he gets older—he’s Wooderson, but it’s not funny (to be fair to Dazed and Confused, the film knows Wooderson is a creep, it’s just that Matthew McConaughey’s charm overrides the film’s assumption that Wooderson is a loser). There is also a common strain of manipulation, of Fukunaga trying to pressure these young women, who genuinely liked him but felt out of their depth with him, into sexual acts. This reminds me of the Aziz Ansari story, which was less about abuse and more about consent, and how poorly understood it is in modern sexual politics. There are undoubtedly a lot of people who will point out that all of these women are over the legal age of consent, that they all agreed to go out with Fukunaga, that they all admit to liking him, that he didn’t actually DO anything, that none of this is criminal behavior. And yes, creepy does not equal criminal.
But as we continue to talk about issues like consent and support for women, creepy behavior has to be part of the conversation. We have to talk about how bad dudes are reading physical cues of discomfort and how much of society and culture trains guys to expect and overcome a certain amount of physical resistance from women, and how those two things are related. And we should stop romanticizing older guys and younger women. Again, I’m sure there are those of you out there in safe and loving age gap relationships, but maybe you’re the exception and not the rule. Because there’s nothing cute about a 40-year-old in a power position consistently hitting on 20-year-olds, let alone trying to talk twins into a threesome, that’s a BOGO sale on red flags at the red flag store.
Vinberg points out that Fukunaga genuinely believes he’s a good guy, that he’s a good ally to women, despite how he treated her, and Hannah and Cailin Loesch, and Raeden Greer. THAT is the thing we have to fix. Not every #MeToo conversation is about criminal abuse, many of these conversations are about the huge disconnect between what we culturally understand as “supporting women” and how individual men behave behind closed doors. Consent, manipulation, emotional abuse, it's all part and parcel of shifting how we discuss behavior and sexual politics. But that’s the part of the conversation that never gained real traction in the wake of #MeToo. Everyone says, “Oh that’s just bad dates,” or, “Maybe he’s a creep but he’s not a criminal,” so the normalized patterns of sh-tty behavior continue because we’ve never really reckoned with them. It’s like the Loesch twins said, it’s not always about the screams, sometimes it's about the whispers. We have to start dealing with the whispers, before they turn into screams.