Tuesday, June 11, 2024

#IReadsYou Book Review: BURN IT DOWN by Maureen Ryan


AUTHOR: Maureen Ryan
ISBN: 978-0-06-326927-9; hardcover (June 6, 2023)
400pp, B&W, $32.50 U.S., $40.00 CAN

Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood is a 2023 nonfiction book from author Maureen Ryan.  Ryan is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, and she has had a three-decade career as a reporter and critic for such publications as GQ, The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, and Variety, to name a few.

Abuse and exploitation of workers is baked into the very foundations of the entertainment industry and in Hollywood, specifically.  It is a cycle, and if that cycle is going to be broken, it is important to stop looking at headline-making stories as individual events.  To make change that sticks, we must look closely at the bigger picture, to see how abusers are created, fed, rewarded, and allowed to persist.  People must discover how they can be excised – with the right tools.

In Burn It Down, veteran reporter Maureen Ryan does just that.  Drawing on decades of experience, Ryan connects the dots and illuminates the deeper forces sustaining Hollywood’s corrosive culture.  She offers fresh reporting that sheds light on problematic situations at television series such as ABC's “Lost” (2004-10) and “The Goldbergs” (2013-23); NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (1975-present); Fox's “Sleepy Hollow” (2013-17); HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (12 seasons over the period of 2000 to 2024), to name a few.

Ryan weaves insights from industry insiders together with historical context and pop-culture analysis.  Most of all, Burn It Down both shows us what’s gone wrong in the entertainment world and also how people can fix it.

THE LOWDOWN:  I first heard of Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood when Hollywood trade publications and social media started reporting a particular section of Maureen Ryan's book.  The chapter entitled, “'Lost' and the Myths of a Golden Age.”  I think many fans had an idealized view of the creative process behind ABC's Emmy-winning TV series, “Lost.”

What the people behind the scenes of the show knew was that that the production of the series involved the machinations and temperamental behavior of executive producer and showrunner, Carlton Cuse, and the codependency of fellow executive producer, Damon Lindelof.  The report about the book offered juicy “Lost” details, but Burn It Down offers further insight via Ryan's interview of fired “Lost actor, Harold Perrineau.

“Lost” is just one part of the story.  Ryan's revealing conversations with actor Orlando Jones details an ugly behind-the-scenes situation with Fox's former supernatural drama, “Sleepy Hollow.”  It seems that after the first season, which was well-received, Fox became concerned that the series was “too Black,” meaning too much focus on too many African-American characters.

Once again, “Sleepy Hollow” is just one part of the story.  Burn It Down is a virtual horror show of stories of terrible behavior – usually committed by white men – behind many hit TV series.  In the book, actress Evan Rachel Wood talks about the abuse she has suffered over the years, especially at the hands of her former boyfriend, rock star Marilyn Manson.  Burn It Down details the Nxivm cult and also the abuse of EGOT recipient, super-producer Scott Rudin.

Still, fully one-third of Burn It Down (the book's “Part Two”) talks about moving forward.  How can people clean up the industry?  What does “centering survivors” and “doing the work” look like?  How does the industry foster real change or even create a new model of creative leadership?

I get the feeling that writing this book took a lot out of Ryan, but I believe that there are more horror stories to tell, enough to fill several books.  Maybe, other writers can pick up this crusade.  In the meantime, I adore Burn It Down, and I recommend it to fans of non-fiction books about Hollywood and about the “Me Too” movement.  In the meantime, the paperback edition is due June 4, 2024.

I READS YOU RECOMMENDS:   Fans of nonfiction books about Hollywood scandals will want to read Burn it Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"

A copy of BURN IT DOWN can be bought at AMAZON.


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