The recent slew of sexual harassment and abuse allegations has forced consumers of media and entertainment—that is, everyone—to question whether or not they can separate the artist from their art. A new resource has made watching film and television a whole lot easier for those who’ve decided that the two cannot and should not be distinct (and those who are just curious about the misconduct of the faces behind their favorite movies). Rotten Apples is a new online database where people can look up any movie to see if it has any affiliation with an alleged perpetrator of sexual harassment and/or abuse.
The idea for the site was born in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, over drinks among four colleagues at the advertising agency Zambezi in Los Angeles. “We noticed there was a snowball effect happening and it was becoming very difficult to keep track of all the names that were tied to allegations,” Tal Wagman, one of the site’s creators, tells Broadly. “We thought it would be great if there were a simple tool to help people figure out this information.”
The site, which has been live for just over a week, operates like a search engine. Users type in the name of a movie they’re curious about, hit enter, and are told that there are either only “fresh apples” behind the film or that some “rotten apples” were involved. “Rotten apples” classifies any cast member, screenwriter, executive producer, or director who has been accused of sexual misconduct, but only if reported by what the site’s creators deem “reputable third party sources.” Films with “rotten apples” show a list of all alleged perpetrators with links to their allegations. Users are also given the option to submit names of those they believe have been mistakenly omitted.
Since Rotten Apples launched, Justice Erolin, who coded the site, says the reaction has been “overwhelming” in terms of both data and sentiment. After just a week, the site is approaching 3 million searches.
While Facebook comments and press have been positive, Bekah Nutt, who worked on the website’s user experience, says the most fascinating part of their launch has been watching the debate around what to do with this information now that it’s so readily available. Rotten Apples maintains that it’s not here to tell users what to do with the information or encourage them to rally against certain productions. “The goal of this site is to further drive awareness of just how pervasive sexual misconduct in film and television is and to help make ethical media consumption easier,” the site states. “By no means is this site meant to serve as a condemnation of an entire project.”
“People don’t want this to become normalized. They don’t want this to be one more thing in the news cycle.”
There is no doubt that while there is no shortage of bad men behind some of Hollywood’s most beloved productions, there are also multitudes of innocent artists, some of whom are victims, who have poured their heart and soul into these films. This nuance is evident in Salma Hayek’s most recent piece for the New York Times in which she recounts the abuses she suffered at the hands of Harvey Weinstein while attempting to make Frida, a film that she called her “greatest ambition.”
“There are tons of people, including victims, who are responsible for putting out really great stuff, and we don't want this to hurt the careers of people who are not bad,” says Wagman.
When I attempted to use the site, the first movie I thought to search was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, since I had just read about the controversy surrounding JK Rowling’s choice to keep Johnny Depp on cast for the second film. To my surprise, the movie turned up as “fresh apples.” When I asked the site’s creators about this, I learned that Rotten Apples focuses solely on sexual misconduct and does not include intimate partner violence that is not of a sexual nature. “I don't think it was that we purposely ignored it,” says Erolin. “We think it's something that's unacceptable, but it wasn't the intention of the site.”
Wagner says that the intention for the site—along with highlighting just how pervasive harassment in the workplace is—was to tap into the momentum surrounding the sexual misconduct conversation in America, which has yet to encompass domestic abuse. “Part of what we're trying to do is reflect on society,” he says. “For whatever reason, as bad as domestic abuse is—and it's terrible—the people who are outed as domestic abusers continue to get work.”
Because his latter point seemed to provide all the more reason to include perpetrators of domestic violence on the site, I asked if they could ever foresee a future where Rotten Apples adds them. “I think it's open for discussion as is anything with the site,” says Nutt. “We're always interested in hearing from people and knowing what the public thinks. The site is evolving.”
For now, the group is focused on user experience and simply keeping the site up and running. “I have actually been surprised by just how many people are interested in the site,” says Nutt. “People don’t want this to become normalized. They don’t want this to be one more thing in the news cycle.”