This year, cancel culture came for stars like Chrissy Teigen, Chris Harrison and Dave Chappelle. Britney Spears finally gained her freedom, but only after she revealed shocking details about her 13-year conservatorship. Here are some of the biggest scandals to rock Hollywood in 2021. — by Ethan Alter, David Artavia, Suzy Byrne, Kerry Justich, Taryn Ryder, Raechal Shewfelt and Megan Sims
Armie Hammer accused of rape
The actor was engulfed in controversy in January after alleged leaked social media messages described sexual fantasies that included violence, rape and cannibalism. Then, in March, a woman came forward and publicly accused The Social Network star of sexual assault. Hammer’s attorney said the star “maintained that all of his interactions with [his accuser] — and every other sexual partner of his for that matter — have been completely consensual, discussed and agreed upon in advance, and mutually participatory.” The Los Angeles Police Department investigated the rape allegation, but it’s unknown if charges will be filed. Hammer recently completed treatment for drug, alcohol and sex issues.
Gina Carano’s Star Wars future flames out
Long, long ago in a version of the Star Wars galaxy that now seems far, far away, The Mandalorian‘s Gina Carano was poised to become the star of her own Disney series inspired by George Lucas’s immortal franchise. But then the actress and martial arts expert’s history of offensive social media posts about hot-button issues like gender pronouns and pandemic-era policies caught up with her. After a since-deleted Instagram post that compared being conservative in Hollywood to being Jewish during the Holocaust, Carano was cut loose by Lucasfilm, her talent agency and even toymakers. Vowing that she wasn’t “going down without a fight,” Carano quickly allied herself with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro for a new film project that has yet to announce a production start date.
Lady Gaga’s dog walker is shot, as her Frenchies are dognapped
While the star was away making House of Gucci in February, her three French bulldogs — Koji, Miss Asia and Gustav — were in the care of her longtime dog walker, Ryan Fischer. He was walking them on a February night in Hollywood when a car pulled up with three men who demanded the dogs. Fischer was shot, and Koji and Gustav were stolen. The thieves, who police say were hoping to illegally sell the dogs, returned the dogs two days later, after Gaga announced a $500,000 reward. No reward was handed over. Instead, five arrests were made — for the three men in the car, one man’s father and the father’s girlfriend, who turned the dogs in to police. They are awaiting trial. Gaga has made no comment about the situation, but her dog walker has spoken out about his physical and emotional path to healing, which includes a cross-country wellness road-trip for which he’s sought crowdfunding.
Harry and Meghan tell all to Oprah
In a moment that was compared to the late Princess Diana’s 1995 sit-down with BBC journalist Martin Bashir, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry talked with Oprah Winfrey for their first major joint interview since stepping away from the royal family in March 2020. The most shocking thing to come out of it was that, when the Duchess of Sussex was pregnant for the first time, a senior member of the royal family had, on multiple occasions, expressed concern to Harry about how dark the child’s skin would be. (Meghan has a Black mother and a white father). She said the family did not offer to make their son, Archie, a prince or to provide security that came along with the title. Early on in the marriage, the racist treatment from the media was so bad, Meghan said, that she’d had suicidal thoughts. Response to the interview was uproarious, and it even indirectly led to Sharon Osbourne leaving The Talk. (See below.) Queen Elizabeth II issued a statement: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”
Sharon Osbourne fired from The Talk amid racism allegations
The last original co-host was ousted in March after an investigation into comments she made on the show. It stemmed from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s high-profile interview with Oprah Winfrey in which Markle alleged racism within the royal family. British opinionator Piers Morgan didn’t believe Markle and publicly said so — and Osbourne backed him up, first on Twitter and then on The Talk. It became a heated, on-air debate about racism with co-host Sheryl Underwood in which Osbourne defended Morgan. While Osbourne later apologized, co-host Elaine Welteroth filed a racial insensitivity complaint after the episode and an investigation was launched as the show went dark. Former co-star Leah Remini and others came forward making allegations about Osbourne’s behavior over the years. They claimed she made derogatory comments about former co-hosts Remini, Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert and Holly Robinson Peete. Osbourne denied all of it and, in her first interview after being fired, said: “I’ve been called so many things in my life — I am so used to being called names — but a racist is one I will not take.”
Lil Nas X and Nike battle over ‘Satan Shoes’
In March, rapper Lil Nas X shocked the Christian world when he launched a controversial pair of what was called “Satan Shoes.” The 666 pairs of shoes, created in collaboration with the NYC-based art collective MSCHF, were modified Nike Air Max 97s and featured a bronze pentagram, an inverted cross and a drop of real human blood. (Because no such product would be complete without a little blood, right?) Nike ended up suing MSCHP shortly after and the two parties ultimately settled the legal battle when the art collective agreed to a voluntary recall of the limited-edition sneakers, which had sold out in less than a minute. The press, however, ended up working to Nas’s advantage. The rapper used it to build hype around the release of “Industry Baby,” the third single released from his first studio album, Montero.
Chris Harrison leaves The Bachelor amid charges of racism
After becoming as closely tied to the dating franchise as roses over 20 years, Harrison hung up his suit jacket. The June news followed his February appearance on Extra, in which he defended a white contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, who was receiving criticism for photos that surfaced online showing her at an antebellum-themed fraternity party in 2018, to Rachel Lindsay. The latter, who had been the show’s first Black bachelorette, pressed Harrison when he said everyone needed to have “a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion” with Kirkconnell. He didn’t see the problem with her having attended the party. Lindsay later gave examples of the franchise’s long-standing issues with race, and others spoke out, too. Harrison apologized — as did Kirkconnell — and he eventually took a break from the show before leaving entirely.
Chrissy Teigen accused of cyberbullying
Courtney Stodden publicly called out the model for tweeting extremely hateful messages years ago — and had the screenshots to back it up. Teigen apologized for those “awful, awful” tweets and condemned her previous bad online behavior, acknowledging that she used to be a troll. The cookbook author took a social media hiatus and focused on her sobriety. “I feel like I’ve done the work and I just hope these people can forgive and be able to welcome the fact that hopefully they’ve seen me be better,” she said in October.
Drake Bell convicted of crimes against a child
On June 23, the Drake & Josh alum pleaded guilty to one count of felony attempted child endangerment and one count of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. The victim claimed Bell “ruined my life” when he began a sexual relationship with her when she was 15, calling him a “pedophile” in court. Bell maintained that her claims were “false” and denied any physical contact between them. He said he took the plea deal because he “felt that it was the best way to get this over quickly and for everybody involved to get to move on.”
Bill Cosby freed from prison
In a stunning reversal, the comedian’s sex conviction was overturned by Pennsylvania’s highest court. The judges ruled in a split decision that a non-prosecution agreement Cosby had made with a previous district attorney more than a decade earlier should be upheld. The Cosby Show star had served just three years of a three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004 when he was released on June 30. Though the disgraced actor has maintained his innocence, his legal woes continued in October, when actress Lili Bernard sued him for sexual assault.
R. Kelly found guilty in sex trafficking trial
After decades of rumors about Kelly’s predatory behavior, the R&B singer was finally held legally accountable. Kelly stood trial for sexual exploitation of a child, bribery, kidnapping and other crimes. In September, he was found guilty on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, an interstate anti-sex trafficking law. He faces decades behind bars.
Dave Chappelle’s The Closer sparks backlash
As soon as it was released Oct. 5, the comedian’s latest Netflix special upset the transgender community. While the company’s CEO Ted Sarandos defended him and declined to remove the stand-up performance from the platform, GLAAD, the National Black Justice Coalition and other queer activists and allies called Chappelle out for his comments, including his declaration that gender is a fact. On Oct. 20, hundreds of Netflix employees walked out in protest amid the scandal. Chappelle said he was willing to meet with them under a few conditions — that he chose the time and place, everyone had to have watched his special in its entirety and agree that fellow comedian Hannah Gadsby, who had slammed Sarandos, is “not funny.” While Chappelle lamented after The Closer that the controversy lessened interest in his film about the murder of George Floyd, he continued to perform.
Ruby Rose stirs up major Batwoman drama
When Ruby Rose first announced her departure from The CW’s Batwoman after a single season, she cryptically remarked: “Those who know, know.” Fast-forward a year later and now everyone knows what led the Australian actress to flee the Batcave, opening the door for Javicia Leslie to take over the mantle of the Bat. In a series of scorched-earth Instagram Story posts that immediately went viral, Rose dropped allegations of unsafe working conditions and “nightmare” co-stars, including Dougray Scott and Camrus Johnson. Warner Bros. forcefully pushed back against her claims, accusing Rose of engaging in “revisionist history.” For now, all seems quiet in Gotham City, but as Bat-fans know all too well, those streets never stay silent for long.
Fatal shooting occurs on Rust
Tragedy struck the set of Alec Baldwin‘s Western film when a prop gun he was holding discharged with a live round. Rising cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza wounded. Conflicting narratives emerged about working conditions prior to the Oct. 21 shooting, with some crew members claiming the set was chaotic and unsafe. Baldwin, who also served as a producer, hit back at those allegations. In an interview with ABC News in December, the actor said he “didn’t pull the trigger,” causing even more confusion about how such an incident could occur. Baldwin is named in two lawsuits (so far), but does not believe he’s guilty. “I feel that someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me,” he declared. The investigation, which is ongoing, has centered on young armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who oversaw all weapons, and assistant director Dave Halls, who declared the weapon a “cold gun,” or safe to use, as he gave it to Baldwin.
Zayn Malik vs. Yolanda and Gigi Hadid
After six years of an on-and-off relationship and one child together, Malik and Hadid called it quits following accusations that the former One Direction singer hit the model’s mom, Yolanda. The incident was first reported on Oct. 28 by TMZ who wrote that Yolanda was considering filing a police report. Shortly thereafter, Malik delivered a response on Twitter where he labeled it a “private family matter” and asked for privacy. He also wrote that he “agreed to not contest claims” in an effort to protect the couple’s daughter, Khai, before providing a statement to TMZ in where he “adamantly” denied striking Yolanda. Zayn and Gigi’s breakup was confirmed that same day, before further details of the incident emerged on Oct. 29 detailing the argument that took place at the couple’s Pennsylvania home one month prior. Malik was charged with four criminal offenses of harassment, fined and put on probation for one year.
Astroworld ends in tragedy
On Nov. 5, rapper Travis Scott held his insanely popular concert Astroworld in Houston after announcing a star-studded lineup featuring the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, 21 Savage, Bad Bunny and more. The concert was slated to last two days, but tragedy struck the very first night. After a day plagued by several problems, such as fans jumping the security line, calls began to come in during Scott’s set, as dozens of the estimated 50,000 attendees became packed near the main stage. Apple Livestream footage and fan cellphone videos showed parts of the melee that led to many people being trampled, losing consciousness and even dying. Two concertgoers were shown on film climbing up to the stage and begging a producer to stop the show, but he refused. Some fans even chanted “stop the show” to Scott, who appeared oblivious to the carnage as he continued his performance, only stopping a few times to bring attention to passed-out fans. Paramedics had a hard time reaching the injured through the packed venue, and video showed a man dancing on top of the ambulance seemingly marooned in the crowd. Scott’s girlfriend, Kylie Jenner, and their daughter, Stormi, along with Jenner’s sister Kendall, had safely been ushered out as things began to take a turn. In all, 10 people lost their lives, including a 9-year-old boy, who suffered traumatic brain injuries during the incident. Following the event, many concertgoers shared their horrifying stories of survival, with some saying they did not think they were going to make it out alive. Scott has since made a statement regarding the incident on Twitter writing in part, “I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival. Houston PD has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life.” He offered to pay the funeral expenses of the victims, although some grieving families have rebuffed him. So far, there are more than 30 lawsuits pending against Scott and several other parties. During his first interview since the concert, which he gave earlier this month, he continued to deny liability.
Britney Spears is finally freed from her 13-year conservatorship
Calls to #FreeBritney were finally heard this year as the pop star, who had been deemed an incapacitated individual in the eyes of the law and treated like an ATM by those involved in the conservatorship, won back her rights. The Framing Britney Spears documentary released in February gave a boost to the fan-driven movement and outlined the injustices she was facing. However, Spears’s brave statement to the court in June, the first time we heard her side, blew it up. Spears alleged conservatorship abuse, saying those in charge — led by her father, Jamie Spears — forced her to work, be placed in a mental health facility and take birth control against her will, among many other allegations. She also said she wanted to sue her family. That led to the “Toxic” singer being able to hire her own lawyer for the first time in 13 years, and the former federal prosecutor chosen, Mathew S. Rosengart, ousted the star’s dad. (He’s always denied any abuse or wrongdoing). That paved the way to end the conservatorship completely by November. While Rosengart looks into the alleged abuse, the newly engaged Spears is celebrating her freedom. For the first time since her nightmare began, she has access to an ATM card (previously only getting an allowance), she can drive her boyfriend in her car and she’s no longer forced to take various medications. She even bought her first iPad, previously having had her internet and phone use monitored. (It’s also been alleged that her home had been bugged without her knowledge.) Spears hasn’t yet, but she’s hinted that she will eventually tell all — and said her family should be worried.
Josh Duggar found guilty in child pornography trial
More than six years after it was revealed the 19 Kids and Counting star molested his sisters, Duggar, now the father of seven young kids, was convicted in December of receiving and possessing material depicting the sexual abuse of children. In May 2019, the former reality star had used his then-work computer to download more than 200 images of child pornography. The horrific material depicted the abuse of kids under the age of 12, some even toddlers. He now faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of as much as $250,000 for each count. Duggar will be sentenced next year.