Trigger warning: this article contains discussion of sexual assault, sexual abuse and suicide
Spanning four hour-long episodes, BBC’s chilling new drama ‘Dark Money’ addresses the horror and corruption that exists within the Hollywood film industry, with particular regard to sexual abuse. The series navigates how influential people (usually men) are able to manipulate their positions of power in the industry, the efforts that are made to cover up cases of sexual abuse and the repercussions that victims face as a result. The show focuses on Isaac Mensah (Max Fincham) following his return from Hollywood after filming new sci-fi movie ‘Valiant and Son’ with producer Jotham Starr (John Schwab), who sexually assaulted the teenage boy in his trailer during filming.
After showing his parents Sam (Jill Halfpenny) and Manny (Babou Ceesay) a video containing audio of Jotham unbuckling his belt and coercing Isaac into touching him non-consensually, they attempt to take action against the producer. It soon becomes apparent that action against Jotham would not be easy and the couple must make a decision between a long-drawn-out court case where Isaac would be portrayed as being guilty by an aggressive defence, or being given £3 million to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement that would legally require the family’s silence on the matter.
Isaac’s parents decide to take the £3 million, after previously being seen struggling to pay for their parking fines and for their fridge to be repaired. The rest of the series follows the aftermath of their decision, as the Mensah family learns that a new life of living in luxury would not undo the trauma that Isaac faced in Hollywood.
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“When you’re sat on the sofa with your son and you’ve accepted money instead of fighting against the abuse he’s suffered, what does it do to you? What does it do to him?” @babouceesay on his new #BBCOne drama #DarkMoney. Join us Monday and Tuesday at 9pm for the concluding two episodes, and watch the story so far on #BBCiPlayer.
The aftermath of the decision takes its toll on the entire family.
Manny and Sam’s marriage becomes heavily strained, with both of them becoming violent and aggressive — Sam towards her step-son Tyrone (Tut Nyuot), and Manny towards Jotham. They also become distant with one another, with their decision to take the money rather than confronting their son’s abuser flooding them both with guilt.
Sam and Manny’s daughter Jess (Olive Gray) also distances herself from the family since, despite not knowing about the £3 million or the NDA, she believes that her parents are taking Isaac’s money so that they can live in luxury. After learning about the decision that her parents had made, Jess’s relationship with her parents deteriorates further as she accuses them of allowing Jotham to get away with sexually abusing her brother.
Isaac also begins to become hostile towards his parents for letting Jotham ‘get away with it’. At school, he starts to joke around about sexual harassment to the embarrassment of his friends. He is seen tugging at girls’ skirts in the hallway and calling them derogatory names, before escalating this and manipulating a girl into taking her clothes off on a video-call. He also begins to experiment with pills and alcohol and, when Isaac’s experience with Jotham is eventually made public, he attempts suicide by overdosing.
These issues make ‘Dark Money’ an incredibly harrowing show and, whilst they are important to address, it must be made clear that the show is not an easy watch by any means — viewing it should not be taken lightly.
“I talk to him all the time.”
“But are you listening? He’s not happy.”
— BBC One (@BBCOne) July 15, 2019
The issues raised in ‘Dark Money’ are unfortunately all too real, with the earliest case of sexual assault in Hollywood dating back to 1921 against Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Outcry against sexual abuse in the industry has risen further in recent years with allegations against men such as Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and Harvey Weinstein.
In 2017, Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually assaulting more than 80 women, as well as using NDAs to ensure the silence of his victims. As a result of these women coming forward, the #MeToo movement was founded. Whilst initially created in response to the Weinstein case to address cases of sexual assault and abuse in Hollywood, the movement soon went viral as thousands of other people came forward to report their own experiences. #MeToo allowed silenced victims to confront the normalisation of sexual assault and abuse that has become all too commonplace and has created an environment of support and unity that means that none of these people stand alone.
As ‘Dark Money’ vividly demonstrates, powerful people in the Hollywood industry are far too easily able to sexually abuse vulnerable people before manipulating them into keeping their silence on the situation. Movements such as #MeToo and series’ such as ‘Dark Money’ demonstrate how instances of sexual assault and abuse do not have to be kept silent and that victims can take back control over their experiences in order to empower themselves.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, do not hesitate to call your National Distress Hotline.
Featured image via BBC iPlayer