On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, citing a couple of technicalities such as a “non-prosecution agreement” with a previous prosecutor and the fact that five additional accusers were able to testify against Cosby during his retrial. Following the court’s decision, Cosby was released from prison, after serving two years of a three to ten-year sentence at State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, there’s the foreboding feeling that Cosby and his team are already planning some sort of a redemption story, which could include an attempt at reentering the entertainment industry or a feature profile/interview in a mainstream outlet. The question is—who will risk their ethics to take the (click)bait?
“No one is going to work with him. No studio. No A-list actor or filmmaker,” one talent agent said via Variety. “It would kill your reputation. Not to mention that you’d have to justify it to your friends and family. How could you do that? He is toxic.”
Several industry insiders are cynical, with one person likening Cosby’s future trajectory to that of O.J. Simpson. Others pointed out that the way in which the 83-year-old actor-comedian was released factors into how he will be largely received.
“There’s no Cosby reunion. There will be no Vegas residency and there will be no new Jell-O endorsement for Mr. Cosby,” Howard Bragman, longtime PR strategist and crisis manager, noted. “He was not found innocent. He was released on a technicality. I would say the world still believes him to be guilty for the heinous crimes he was charged with and he’s going to live a very O.J. Simpson-like existence for the rest of his life.”
“To perceive Cosby as having won on the merits rather than having been freed thanks to an odd quirk of history and prosecutorial misjudgment is to grant Cosby a power he does not in fact possess, to give credence to a story in his defense that the public’s heard enough of. For the foreseeable future, Cosby will be known, first, as a man accused of brutally traumatizing many, many women. Whatever he has to say for himself comes second,” Variety’s Chief Television Critic Daniel D’Addario wrote in a recent piece in regard to this chapter of events not silencing Cosby’s accusers.
On the flip side, the full scope of “cancel culture” often evades powerful men, especially the more privilege they possess, such as race and/or financial status. In addition to survivors having to re-traumatize themselves by coming forward, there is an even further re-traumatization when they have to then watch their abusers go on with life relatively unscathed, simply because society does not care. D’Addario continued:
Which is not to say that Cosby will literally never work again. Peers of his, men who’ve fallen from positions at the top of society when the audience learned of or came to reevaluate their private behavior, have managed to literally get bookings. Kevin Spacey has reportedly taken a small part on an upcoming Italian film; Europe, too, has provided a landing spot for Woody Allen, whose last American-set film, A Rainy Day in New York, was disavowed by much of its cast and was never theatrically released stateside, and whose memoir was cancelled by its publisher Hachette after a staff revolt. For context, though, until Anthony Rapp came forward with sexual-misconduct allegations against Spacey in 2017, the actor was near the very peak of his career, having hosted the Tonys that year and racked up Emmy nominations for Netflix’s House of Cards. Spacey will almost certainly never get back there, nor Allen back to a place where his movies are financed uncritically by major American corporations. Even as they may work, they must adjust to a circumstance in which their reputations follow them.
As The Root previously reported, several people in the entertainment industry had something to say about Cosby’s release—most notably Phylicia Rashad, who received harsh critique for her initial comments as well as her backtracking statement. As in the case of Janet Hubert, though, others called out Cosby’s transgressions. Kid Cudi put it plain, “People that are celebrating Bill Cosby being released are fuckin’ idiots.”
Additionally, an old clip of late actor-comedian Bernie Mac recirculated on Twitter, in which he subtly critiqued Cosby, who often got on his high horse of respectability politics when it came to Black folks despite his own transgressions, which he was later convicted for.
“I think a lot of comedians say one thing and do another,” Bernie said at the time. “I mean, I call that a lie. [...] I’ve seen a lot of comedians go out and say ‘you can’t do this, you don’t do drugs and you gotta treat your women like this that and the other’ and then they go out and do contrary to what they say.”