It’s hard to put into words just how important An Open Secret is in terms of how it tackles the darker elements of Hollywood and what needs to be changed. Amy Berg’s 2014 documentary about the child grooming practises in Tinseltown was passed over upon release, but thankfully made it to the public’s attention after producers released it on Vimeo in late 2017 during the rise of #MeToo.
If it weren’t for this film, I never would have known about companies like Digital Entertainment Network, or D.E.N. D.E.N. was a mid-90s dotcom company that was imagined as a Nickelodeon-style kids’ entertainment network broadcasting its programming online. It was eventually crashed because its lead executives were arrested on child sexual offense allegations. Highlighting the likely truth in these allegations, the film also describes parties held by D.E.N. for their investors wherein the younger talent for the site were fed drugs and alcohol.
The documentary is framed mostly through stories of a number of survivors who have left the industry. While more high-profile survivors are spotlighted, stories from child actors pushed out of the industry because of these assaults are important. The film displays the disproportionate power dynamics at play and how they target those most vulnerable in the system.
The movie works to dispel myths surrounding child predation and shows how grooming operates. Predators are not just lone figures attacking unknown children on the street. They garner their trust, manipulate their naivety and find a way to gain a degree of control and influence over their lives. This last tactic is especially the case with how Hollywood agents and executives can isolate children from their parents, even sometimes living with them if they’re too far away from LA. Just the extent of the abuse and how much these people got away with is dispiriting. One of the main interviewees is a Vanity Fair journalist whose article about the D.E.N. child grooming was killed. As grim and disempowering as Berg’s film can seem, however, I don’t find it hopeless. Getting this information out there is so vital and knowing how these grooming rings operate could spur Hollywood to act on protecting child actors.
Daniel Kiniry is an aspiring film writer from Cork. He has a wealth of experience in online and print journalism. He has run a film blog for nearly 5 years, and is a producer and host of a community radio show on Room 101. He is currently a contributor to Geek Ireland.