Terry Crews – Marvel, Toxic Masculinity and Life After #metoo

A man apart… Terry Crews. Photograph: Benjo Arwas

The Deadpool 2 star made his name as the NFL player-turned-comedic gentle giant. Now, in the wake of his own sexual abuse allegations, he’s become the voice of the male #metoo movement


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Terry Crews: Marvel, toxic masculinity and life after #metoo” was written by Jonathan Bernstein, for The Guardian on Tuesday 22nd May 2018 09.00 UTC

Terry Crews sits in the cabana of his Pasadena mansion looking out at a spectacular view of the San Gabriel mountains. With mounting emotion, he speaks with trepidation about the future of his career: “Lincoln freed the slaves but was killed. Martin Luther King did the I Have a Dream speech and he was murdered. Hollywood has seen a couple of murders, too. The mindset is: sit tight, we’ll get you. Retaliation is real. You say something now but there will be backlash against anybody who comes forward.”

A year ago, the notion that the name Terry Crews would inspire anything but universal positivity would have seemed surreal. The former NFL player – who transitioned into acting in 1997 – is the embodiment of the well-worn term “gentle giant”. He has used his imposing physicality for comedic effect in films such as the agreeably dumb White Chicks, Friday After Next, Get Smart and Mike Judge’s prescient Idiocracy, where he played the reality-star head of state President Camacho. Crews has also utilised his linebacker physique in more visceral projects, including playing one of the sprightlier members of Sylvester Stallone’s OAP action ensemble The Expendables. “I’ve done a lot of movies to make the white superstar look good,” comments Crews, 49. “I’ve done movies where I got beat up by guys who could never touch me.”

As well as being a regular on sitcoms such as Everybody Hates Chris, Arrested Development and Are We There Yet?, he’s perhaps best known for his five seasons as hulking-but-weepy desk sergeant Terry Jeffords on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. These are not the credits of a controversial figure. But on 10 October last year, five days after the New York Times’s first exposé on Harvey Weinstein, Crews sent a chain of tweets detailing his experience of what he says was sexual harassment at the hands of a then-unnamed Hollywood agent, whom he accused of grabbing his crotch at a party hosted by Adam Sandler. “I saw my social media and men specifically were calling these women gold diggers and opportunists who just wanted a pay day. And it had happened to me. I’m reading all these guys calling these women all these names and I was like: ‘I can’t let this happen.’ I would have been the biggest farce ever. I’m just going to say what happened to me and let everybody else be the judge.”

A month later, interviewed on Good Morning America, Crews identified his alleged assailant as Adam Venit, the head of the motion picture department at William Morris Endeavor. By the end of the year, Time magazine named the burgeoning #metoo moment its collective person of the year, and Terry Crews its most prominent male voice. “My wife was there when I was molested,” he recalls. “I was yelling at this guy and pushing him away. I wanted to knock him out I was so angry. I didn’t know Adam Venit but here he was, the head of the motion picture department of my agency.”

Crews with Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Crews with Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Photograph: FOX via Getty Images

Even though the Weinstein exposé saw the end of numerous high-profile male entertainment industry careers, behind and in front of the camera, William Morris Endeavor allegedly took a different stance. (Crews claims he reported the incident at the time to his agents but William Morris disputes that he reported the incident to it immediately.)

“I went to Ari Emmanuel, the head of the agency,” says Crews, “and I printed out a letter that he wrote when he wanted Mel Gibson blacklisted from Hollywood for antisemitic remarks. And I took that same letter, crossed out ‘Mel Gibson’, put in ‘Adam Venit’, crossed out ‘antisemitic remarks’ and put in ‘sexual assault’. I gave him the letter and said: ‘You know what you have to do.’ And he said: ‘It’s different, we have to deal with this in a different way.’ I said: ‘Is the only thing that can get you kicked out of Hollywood, antisemitic remarks? Where is murder on the list?’ So I fired him. I fired the agency and I told my wife that we had to be ready to never work again.”

The agency says that when it heard about Venit’s alleged conduct he was immediately suspended without pay and when he returned to work he was demoted. Crews made a complaint to the police about Venit but the prosecution did not file charges; Venit’s defence to the lawsuit is that it was merely drunken horseplay not sexual. Crews has subsequently filed a civil suit against Venit, which has a court date of July next year.

Crews’s initial fears for his career have so far proven unfounded. He is already ensconced in the Marvel universe (but not the official Marvel Cinematic Universe), playing X-Force member Bedlam, both in the upcoming Deadpool sequel and an X-Force spin-off. “I have not gone broke,” he assures me. “New opportunities are coming simply because it’s a new day. It’s almost like the reconstruction when you have the emancipation proclamation and slavery is over. Now you have to deal with the new rules.” His mood darkens. “I did have some backlash. Avi Lerner, who is the producer of The Expendables, had the nerve to call my manager and say that if I dropped the case against William Morris, I could avoid problems on the set of the next Expendables sequel. And I’m going: ‘What problems? Why would that even be a topic of conversation as regards my employment?’ Turns out Sylvester Stallone is represented by Adam Venit. He’s connected to so many people in this business that it’s going to affect me.”

Crews as Julius in Everybody Hates Chris.
Crews as Julius in Everybody Hates Chris. Photograph: Robert Voets/CBS/Getty Images

He continues: “I’m getting support now, which is awesome, but what happens in two years? What happens in three years when no one remembers, when people have all moved on?” He drops his voice and gives an ominous stare. “Agents are like Catholic priests,” he says. “If they’re good, the whole community loves them. But when they’re bad, it gets as evil as it can ever get. An agent can rape a client but he got her a show so she has to pay him. The guy who molested me, I have to send him a cheque every time I do a job. A guy can molest you and then sue you for not paying him!”

Until recently, Crews was regarded as an affable presence. Now, like Brendan Fraser and James Van Der Beek, he is acknowledged as a voice against toxic masculinity and an advocate for harassment victims. I ask Crews if he feels what’s happened to him is in some way predestined: “I feel like this whole thing is the reason why I’ve been put on Earth. The silence allows this stuff to breathe and grow and I want to shine a light on it because it’s everywhere. It was in sports, in business, in politics, in religion. Anywhere there’s success, there’s temptation. I tell people this is not a witch hunt, it’s a fumigation. And I’m going to tell you something right now: I have forgiven Adam Venit,” he insists. “That’s the only way I can be free. He messed up. We all messed up. But we have to be held accountable.”

Deadpool 2 is out now

• This article was amended on 23 May 2018 because Bedlam is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as an earlier version said. That character is part of the wider Marvel universe, but not the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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