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A Russian model was poised for her big break in 'Anna.' Then the film got stuck in MeToo limbo

Amy Kaufman and Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Sasha Luss walked into the private screening room with a cocktail in hand, ready to watch herself in her first major movie. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon when she arrived at Soho House, and her birthday. She was 27 and had spent the morning celebrating at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

But even though Luss' film, "Anna," an action thriller about a former model turned assassin, will be released by Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment on Friday, the studio had not arranged the screening. Instead, it was a representative for the actress who booked the intimate gathering of about 10, including a couple of her close friends and Luc Besson, who wrote and directed the film.

Besson, best known for cult favorite action spectacles like "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element," has kept a low public profile since last year, when nine women accused him of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior in the French publication Mediapart.

One of those women, the 28-year-old Dutch Belgian actress Sand Van Roy, went to the French police in May 2018, accusing Besson of rape.

A lawyer for Besson has said publicly that the director denies "reprehensible behavior of any kind." In February, following a monthslong police investigation into Van Roy's claims, the Paris prosecutor's office said Besson would not face any charges due to lack of evidence.

Lionsgate had acquired the U.S. rights to release "Anna" in October 2017, before the allegations against Besson became public. While Van Roy's claims were being investigated, the film's release was put on hold. And then in April, just two months after the probe ended, the studio finally dated the film.

 

#METOO FALLOUT

Lionsgate, known for "The Hunger Games" and "John Wick" franchises, is not the first studio to have a film entangled in Hollywood's #MeToo reckoning.

Amazon Studios severed ties with Woody Allen amid renewed attention to a 1992 claim that he sexually abused his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow. Allen, in February, sued the company for at least $68 million for breach of contract, saying Amazon had reneged on his film deals as the result of a "baseless" allegation. Twentieth Century Fox, on the other hand, hired Bryan Singer to direct "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 2016 even after the filmmaker was publicly accused of sexual abuse -- charges he has long denied. The director was subsequently fired from the production, but Singer was, nevertheless, credited as the film's director, and the Queen biopic became a global box office hit.

Lionsgate is neither abandoning "Anna" nor fully promoting it. The film is expected to open in 2,200 theaters nationwide, but Lionsgate is doing minimal publicity -- opting to not host screenings for movie critics, press junkets or red carpet premieres. Nonetheless, previews for the movie have appeared on television and in theaters ahead of movies, including the latest "John Wick" sequel.

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