By Evan Nierman

The case of Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey highlights the real dangers of cancel culture and illustrates what can go wrong when salacious sexual accusations are leveled and media coverage amplifies them without having all the facts. Spacey’s experience exemplifies how a rush to judgment can devastate an individual’s life, career and reputation in the blink of an eye.

Now that his name has been legally cleared, Spacey deserves a fair chance to rebound.

Spacey recently walked out of court exonerated of all charges after London’s Southwark Crown Court reached a not-guilty verdict in the high-profile case stemming from sex charges that stretched back to 2004. Due process prevailed, but now Spacey must rebuild a decades-long career that collapsed after he was fired from his “House of Cards” role on the Netflix series six years ago when the accusations first surfaced.

The Court of Public Opinion tarred and feathered the star before the facts were out, causing him to lose jobs, suffer extreme financial hardship, and face public shaming that painted him as a relentless sexual molester. For years, Spacey was “persona non grata” in the circles of Hollywood’s elite as studios as directors sought to distance themselves from him based on unproven allegations of salacious behavior.

“My world exploded. There was a rush to judgment and before the first question was asked or answered, I lost my job, I lost my reputation, I lost everything in a matter of days,” Spacey said tearfully at the trial’s conclusion, noting that legal costs had crippled him financially.

The accusations against Spacey covered a period between 2004 and 2013, when the actor served as artistic director at the Old Vic theater in the British capital. The A-lister prevailed in court this week when he was acquitted of nine charges including sexual assault brought on by four different men. But his reputation has been under fire for years. In 2016, Spacey was accused of groping an 18-year-old in a bar in Nantucket, but the charges were dropped in 2019.

The Hollywood star’s unfortunate journey illustrates why it is so important to withhold judgment until the accused receives due process because lives and livelihoods can be damaged forever based on rumor and innuendo. The actor now deserves a chance at redemption, but whether Spacey is able to fully restore the shine to his tarnished reputation remains to be seen.

Spacey’s best chance of reclaiming his career and former stardom is to make himself available to the media and the public. He must take control of the narrative by telling his own story in his own way and in his own words, remain humble, but make it eminently clear that he has been exonerated of every accusation leveled against him in his mission to un-cancel himself.

Like actor Johnny Depp and comedian Kevin Hart before him, Spacey will likely be successful in reviving his career, and should initially choose roles whose character will portray him in a positive light. Spacey should also leverage the support of the fans who have stood by his side during this saga, while earning the trust of producers and filmmakers by voluntarily agreeing to be supervised on-set. 

Ultimately, Spacey’s career and finances should rebound over time due to his extensive Hollywood resume and the public’s short-term memory for the stumbles that make flashy headlines and then disappear.

Evan Nierman is Founder and CEO of the crisis communications firm Red Banyan and co-author of The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad.