As Hollywood reflects on the movies, TV, and other industry developments of 2016, it’s also worth looking back at the most controversial, thought-piece-provoking, scandalous moments of the year.
From Johnny Depp to Ryan Lochte, controversy stained the careers of several celebrities, while the dark stories of Nate Parker and Roger Ailes left much of the industry soul-searching. Here, we break down the biggest scandals and controversies in Hollywood of 2016, and where they stand now.
Johnny Depp Domestic Violence Allegations
Depp had been facing professional struggles for some time with a series of flops (that continued this year with “Alice Through the Looking Glass”), but his personal problems also made headlines in 2016. The real trouble started when Amber Heard filed for divorce from the actor in May, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Just a few days later, Heard was granted a temporary restraining order against Depp. In the midst of all this, Heard’s lawyer issued a statement saying that she “suffered through years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Johnny,” and damning photos of Heard with a bruised face were published in People.
Where it stands now: The former couple reached a settlement in the divorce in August, with Heard receiving $7 million. She donated the entirety of the settlement to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Heard in November also appeared in an emotional domestic violence PSA. Both of their careers chug full steam ahead, though. Depp will reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and Heard has been cast as Mera in the upcoming “Aquaman.” Depp will also appear in the sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Brad Pitt’s Family Troubles
Of course, it was big news when Hollywood royalty Pitt and Angelina Jolie announced their divorce in September. An attorney for Jolie said that the actress and filmmaker filed for divorce “for the health of the family.” But the story became even more lurid when it was revealed that the FBI was looking into an alleged child welfare incident that took place aboard a plane, surrounding an argument between Pitt and his teenage son Maddox.
Where it stands now: Jolie’s camp said in November that their six children would remain in the custody of their mother for the time being, while Pitt would continue “therapeutic visits” with the children. Meanwhile, Pitt was cleared in the FBI inquiry that same month, and cleared by the Department of Child Services. While Pitt seems to have recovered from the tabloid gossip, some suspect the flap may have hurt his career. His first movie after the divorce, “Allied,” pulled in underwhelming numbers at the box office.
Ryan Lochte initially garnered sympathy when he claimed that he and three other American Olympic swimmers were robbed at gunpoint during the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in August… until Brazilian police alleged that Lochte fabricated the incident, and charged him with making a false report of a robbery. While USA Today Sports reported that the Rio police’s account of the incident also might not be entirely accurate, Lochte apologized for his “behavior,” telling Matt Lauer that he “over-exaggerated that story.” He was also was suspended for 10 months from all swimming competitions by the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming.
Where it stands now: Lochte may have gotten an opportunity to redeem himself in the public eye with a role on “Dancing With the Stars,” but even that found controversy, with two protesters rushing the stage during the ABC series’ season premiere (the duo was subsequently arrested). He was voted off the show in Week 8, and has been keeping out of the spotlight. Lochte recently announced that he’s expecting his first child with fiancee Kayla Rae Reid.
Billy Bush, Donald Trump, and “Access Hollywood”
It was the leaked tape heard ’round the world. A 2005 video obtained by the Washington Post captured Trump and Bush partaking in what Trump would later call “locker room talk,” with Trump getting vulgar about his relations with women and uttering the now infamous line, “grab them by the p—-.” Trump, who was the Republican nominee for president when the tapes leaked, saw members of his own party distancing themselves from him, and Bush faced considerable backlash for egging on Trump.
Where it stands now: Bush officially parted ways with his “Today” hosting gig in October, and will surely face struggles getting back into the media biz in the coming months. As for Trump, well, he fared a little better … to say the very, very least. Though it seemed at one point that the leaked comments would be the downfall of his campaign, he’s since been elected president of the United States.
Kanye West and Kim Kardashian v. Taylor Swift
Early this year, West released his single “Famous,” containing the line, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” Following its release, Swift’s camp released a statement blasting the “misogynistic” song, saying that West did not call for approval. Meanwhile, West claims that he did receive the OK for the line from Swift. And his wife, Kardashian, published a series of videos via Snapchat to back him up. The videos, which ignited a firestorm across social media, appeared to show Swift OK’ing the line “me and Taylor might still have sex” in a phone call with West that Kardashian secretly recorded. “Umm, yeah go with whatever line you think is better,” Swift can be heard saying. “It’s obviously very tongue in cheek either way.” After the Snapchat videos were released, Swift quickly fired back, saying that she had not been told about the “I made that bitch” line in the song.
Where it stands now: Not much has changed since July’s clearly earth-shattering developments. West gave Swift a brief shout-out during a rambling Video Music Awards speech, but West and Kardashian have had a few personal issues to deal with in the months since. Kardashian was the victim of a highly publicized robbery in October, and West was hospitalized for about a week last month.
Nate Parker’s Trial Resurfaces
When Parker debuted his passion project “Birth of a Nation” at Sundance, it was met with universal acclaim and quickly jumped to the top of early awards predictions. However, in August, it resurfaced that, in 1999, Parker and his then-roommate Jean Celestin (who also co-write “Birth of a Nation”) were accused of rape while students at Penn State University. Even more disturbing, Variety later discovered that Parker’s accuser committed suicide in 2012. Parker was acquitted in a 2001 trial (Celestin was found guilty, although his sentence was later thrown out on appeal), but the dark details of the trial dominated the conversation about the film.
Where it stands now: Despite considerable backlash, Fox Searchlight, the studio that acquired “Birth of a Nation” out of Sundance in a landmark deal, went forward with its release. It didn’t make much of a splash at the box office, and has largely been left out of the awards conversation. For his part, Parker has generally kept out of the public eye for the past few months.
Diversity has long been an issue in Hollywood, but it received widespread attention after the 2016 Oscar nominees were announced early this year. With not one person of color among the nominees in all four acting categories, the backlash was fierce, with big names, including Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, announcing a boycott of the ceremony. The Academy didn’t shy away from the subject, though, as host Chris Rock poked fun and made a statement about the controversy during the awards show.
Where it stands now: It’s hard to say before the 2017 Oscar nominees are announced, but it’s already thankfully looking like a more diverse field. With movies like “Moonlight” and “Fences” scoring early buzz, more non-white actors may make it into the race. And while the fight for diversity is far from over, the Academy — whose membership is largely white and male — made some big rule changes designed to include more people of color and women in its ranks.
We’d love to pin down one specific incidence of whitewashing — the term for casting a white actor in a historically non-white role — but there were several instances that took over the conversation this year. “Doctor Strange” did seem to be at the forefront, though, as it was released this year, with the Marvel movie facing controversy of its casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who’s a Tibetan man in the comics. Scarlett Johansson also got flack for starring as Motoko Kusanagi in “The Ghost in the Shell,” a movie that will debut next year based on the beloved anime. And while Matt Damon in “The Great Wall” fits more into the “white savior” category, it’s been included in the discussion as well.
Where it stands now: The whitewashing controversy didn’t appear to hurt “Doctor Strange” very much, as it’s grossed more than $650 million worldwide since its release in November. Even still, an email exchange where Swinton asks Margaret Cho about whitewashing has been making the rounds over the past week, re-igniting the conversation once again. We’ll have to wait and see if the backlash hurts “The Ghost in the Shell,” which will hit theaters on March 31, 2017.
The Fall of Roger Ailes
It’s been quite a year for Fox News. Donald Trump drama aside (we’ll get to that later), the sexual harassment claims made against Ailes, the then-top executive at Fox News, followed the network throughout 2016. In July, longtime Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes, prompting an internal review. Even as Fox personalities defended Ailes, more women came out to level accusations at him, and he was eventually forced to resign. Even Trump called the exit “very sad!”
Where it stands now: Fox in September said it settled the suit with Carlson, who had been outspoken about the issue over the summer. Even with Ailes out, the claims still appear to plague the network. In fact, last month, Fox News’ own star Megyn Kelly released her book, “Settle for More,” which detailed some creepy alleged encounters with Ailes — which Ailes of course denied. Speaking of Kelly…
Trump v. Hollywood
Yes, the fact that the former host of “The Apprentice” became the president of the United States is an astonishing story in itself. But his attacks on the entertainment industry and media this year are unprecedented (not “unpresidented,” heh) for a soon-to-be commander-in-chief. Even before he was elected president, his feud with Fox News’ Kelly was well documented, the climax of the conflict possibly being when Trump said Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” during the Republican presidential debate (though that was in 2015).
Furthermore, Trump took an unusual interest in “Saturday Night Live.” While he hosted the NBC variety show back in 2015, he launched several attacks on “SNL” throughout the election cycle, specifically at Alec Baldwin’s impression of the president-elect. Baldwin fired back by offering to stop the impression … if Trump would release his tax returns. And, to the chagrin of many who thought Trump was trying to distract from more serious issues, he slammed the cast of “Hamilton” for making an address to Vice President-elect Mike Pence while he attended the Broadway show. Oh, and there’s the fact that he will still be credited as an executive producer on “Celebrity Apprentice” while he’s in office. For Hollywood’s part, the industry largely supported, with publicity and funds, Hillary Clinton.
Where it stands now: It’s safe to say that this is likely only the beginning. On Jan. 20, Trump will officially be inaugurated as president. He likely won’t get a warm welcome to the Oval Office from Hollywood — but it seems that the feeling is mutual.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that popstar Taylor Swift “advised against the lyric” in Kanye West’s song when, in fact, her camp had “not been made aware” of the controversial line “I made that bitch famous.”