Ezra Miller scandals put pressure on Warner Bros to respond to grooming allegations

It’s time for Warner Bros. Discovery to talk about Ezra Miller, according to crisis management experts.

The actor, who plays superhero The Flash in the studio’s DC Extended Universe, including in an upcoming big-budget movie, has come under scrutiny in recent months for disturbing behavior and allegations of ‘misconduct.

Miller, 29, made headlines in 2020 after a video surfaced of them appearing to violently choke a fan. However, the incidents of impropriety escalated in 2022 when they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and harassment at a karaoke bar in Hawaii.

Hours before they were due in court in April on those charges, Miller was arrested again after an altercation in which they were accused of throwing a chair and injuring a woman.

Now, two protective orders have been granted, one for a 12-year-old child in Massachusetts and one for Gibson Iron Eyes, an 18-year-old Standing Rock activist, who was treated by Miller, according to parents Chase Iron Eyes and Sara Jumping Eagle. Authorities were unable to locate Miller to serve these orders. Gibson is believed to be traveling with Miller.

Miller notably deleted his Instagram account earlier this week after he posted photos and cryptic messages that appeared to taunt the police.

The allegations against Miller come nearly a year before Warner Bros. is releasing “The Flash,” a $100 million movie that’s part of the studio’s DC franchise.

“When you start having a streak of things, that’s a worrying trend,” said Tony Freinberg, president of Edendale Strategies, a crisis management and strategic communications firm. “He’s worried about what he’s saying about someone’s well-being, and he’s worried about what he’s saying about someone’s fitness to be the face of a great Warner franchise. Bros.”

“Anything could be a misunderstanding,” he added. “But when you start getting into four, five, six things, you start getting into troubling territory.”

Miller’s talent agent and legal representatives did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

“Silence is not an option,” said Evan Nierman, author of “Crisis Averted” and CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan. “At some point, by choosing not to say anything, you communicate a message.”

Warner Bros. had remained silent during Miller’s assault arrests earlier this year, but sources within the company said emergency meetings were held in April to discuss their recent controversies and how the studio would proceed going forward. At that time, it was determined that the film would stay on the slate, but Warner Bros. would put future projects involving the actor on hold.

The studio even teased “The Flash” during its presentation at CinemaCon in late April, suggesting that it still plans to release the film next year.

Miller has been associated with the DCEU since the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016 and was a key part of the “Fantastic Beasts” film series produced by Warner Bros., which has two more films to film.

“If they’re hoping it’s going to go away or people are going to forget about it, I think they’re wrong,” Nierman said.

Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The studio is in a difficult situation. On social media, DCEU fans are clamoring for Miller’s redesign. But that, and remaking a movie, is incredibly expensive, and the studio might not be able to earn enough box office profit to recoup its investment.

It’s also not as simple as shelving the film and writing off the multi-million dollar budget. Freinberg noted that Warner Bros. is probably evaluating every contract associated with the film to determine what he can legally do in the future.

If the actors or producers have incorporated the film’s proceeds into their contracts, Warner Bros. may be legally obligated to release the film, whether or not Miller violates the morality clauses of his own contract.

“I think Warner Bros. is in a horrible position,” Freinberg said. “It’s not typical for people to feel sorry for movie studios, but I’m really sorry for Warner Bros because they’re in a nightmare situation trying to figure out what to do because every option they have is bad.”

Warner Bros. recently merged with Discovery in a deal worth $43 billion, meaning the company’s top brass inherit not just the content, but the crises that come with it. Experts told CNBC that David Zaslav, president and CEO of the new Warner Bros. Discovery, is likely very involved in how the company will ultimately react to the situation.

Freinberg suggested that Warner Bros. could also refrain from speaking publicly about the Miller case because it is about allegations.

“An allegation is just an allegation, it’s not proven,” Freinberg said. “They are entitled to due process and everything else, but on the other hand, what is being said about them is very serious.”

Whatever decision Warner Bros. will be the studio’s strategy going forward, Freinberg and Nierman agree that it needs to be done quickly.

“The key for Warner Bros. is ‘to be fast but don’t rush,'” Freinberg said, citing basketball coach John Wooden. “There’s no time to waste, but they don’t want to announce something that’s half-baked.”

Nierman echoed that sentiment, noting that any statement must be communicated with transparency and authenticity — and that saying nothing would be a bad choice.

“If they were my client, I would recommend going public with a statement and doing it with a strategic outcome in mind,” Nierman said of Warner Bros. “If they know they intend to release the film, then explain why they’re not dropping the film at this point. Audiences and reasonable people would understand.

He added: “In a flash your reputation can evaporate, and for that reason they have to take it seriously.”

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