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When the #MeToo movement became prominent in late 2015-2016, innumerable accusations and allegations of sexual assault in Hollywood and the entertainment industry were publicized. While there were countless people voicing their support for victims, there were also voices vouching for the alleged abusers. Even in 2023, there are still people vouching for their friends, seen most recently with Ashton Kutcher and his wife Mila Kunis writing to a judge requesting a lighter sentence for their friend and former co-star, Danny Masterson.
On September 8, 2023, journalist Meghann M. Cuniff announced that Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis wrote support letters for Danny Masterson pleading for less time to be served regarding his 30 year sentence for rape. This happened the same day that former actor Danny Masterson, officially convicted of two counts of sexual assault, was given a 30 year prison sentence. Once the world became aware of Kutcher’s support for his friend despite the crimes, Kutcher immediately came under fire. On September 9, one day after Masterson’s sentencing and the character letters had come to light, Kutcher uploaded a minute-long video apology to Instagram featuring his wife, Mila Kunis, and apologized to the victims, stating that Masterson’s family had asked Kutcher and Kunis to write character letters on behalf of Masterson and it was “not to retraumatize [the victims].” Kunis added that “their heart goes out to anyone who has ever been a victim”. Kutcher has noticeably turned all his comments off.
Kutcher is in a unique position through advocating for Masterson, as he was also formerly involved with Thorn. Thorn is a company dedicated to protecting children from sexual assault, the very crime Masterson committed, and was founded by Kutcher himself.
On September 15, a week after Masterson’s sentencing and Kutcher’s letter of support was revealed, it was announced that Kutcher had decided to resign and step down as Thorn’s Board Chair. This announcement came following a week of criticism from both the masses and notable celebrities alike, including Kathy Griffin and Christina Ricci.
When Kathy Griffin denounced Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis for their support of Danny Masterson, she also publicly shared how she had taken the route opposite them and was willing to be shunned by her family for trying to imprison her brother for a similar crime. Similarly, Christina Ricci made a public statement on her Instagram story, stating that even when one is friends with a person and believes them to be good, they can still be guilty of crimes. While Ricci did not name names, many fans speculated that Ricci’s comments were aimed at Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis.
Ashton Kutcher posted an apology video to Instagram with his wife on September 9, 2023. Variety describes their demeanor best, as having “... an uncomfortable tone of supreme self-assurance.” Later that same day, Chrissie Carnell Bixler, Masterson’s ex-girlfriend and one of the women to accuse him of sexual assault, posted an old video of Kutcher. In the video, a then-25-year-old Ashton Kutcher made comments about “waiting for Hillary Duff to turn 18” when she had just turned 16, and then said the same about the then-17-year-old Olsen twins. Kutcher has not commented on the resurfacing of this video. While Kutcher is no longer 25-years-old, perhaps these comments, and the lack of cultural push back against Kutcher at the time, offers some insight as to why he was willing to write the character letter for Masterson. While Kutcher’s comments may have been in the past and Masterson’s victims have received justice with his sentencing, but the future for women in Hollywood, especially in a post #MeToo era is nebulous.
Though the future for women in the entertainment industry is still unclear, one can wonder if it is because of seemingly progressive male actors like Kutcher. Kutcher was someone who opposed sexual harassment and abuse, and made a charity for protecting children from it. However contradictorily, he undermined these principles by advocating for Masterson, and has not taken accountability for his comments regarding his sexualization of minors when he was in his mid twenties. Though the comments about the Olsen twins and Duff may have been meant as a harmless joke, the culture of hypersexualizing women in Hollywood creates unfavorable environments for women to succeed and be taken seriously. While not entirely, the objectification of women and viewing them solely through a sexual perspective, might help explain the disparities in opportunities between men and women in Hollywood. For example, according to Variety Magazine, “...of the 111 directors hired to make the 100 top-grossing movies in 2022, just 9% were women, 3.7% points below 2021.”
However, not all accusations and defenses are taken as seriously as the ones against Masterson. During the events of the presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in 2020, Alyssa Milano, a prominent advocate for victims of sexual assault, remained silent about sexual harassment accusations against Joe Biden. So did the Time’s Up movement and Hollywood in general. Milano’s excuse was to claim that she did not voice support for Tara Reade (Biden’s accuser) because Time's Up did not discuss it and she was not “willing to throw him under the bus”. Biden is someone she has known for over a decade. It seems that she and Kutcher have acted hypocritically, as both have worked against sexual assault yet stayed silent about or tried to protect someone they know who has been accused.
It is often said that everyone has a secret. Danny Masterson is no different; after all, celebrities are still humans. But for Masterson, it was only a matter of how long Masterson's high ranking role in Scientology and his fellow celebrity friends like Kutcher could protect him. Turns out, it was not forever.