Students from the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts might remember Max Landis as the speaker whose Nov. 7 guest appearance in professor Joseph Rosenberg’s The New Era of Television class was canceled. Fingers pointed to controversial allegations surrounding his professional relationships with fellow coworkers, and he faced backlash from Chapman students on the grounds of floating speculation on his concerning assaultive tendencies towards women.
Since his canceled appearance, Landis – a producer and screenwriter for movies like “Bright” and “Chronicle” – was reported to have emotionally and sexually abused eight women. In addition, actress Anna Akana, who participated in one of Landis’ YouTube videos, expressed her frustration with Netflix’s promotion of “Bright” in a now-deleted tweet that read, “Written by a psychopath who sexually abused and assaults women, right? Cool.” The aftermath of the actress’ tweet opened the floodgates to other figures coming forward with assault allegations.
The ajar door was pushed wide open when The Daily Beast published an exclusive report about Landis’s accusers on June 18. Accounts and stories were revealed by multiple women, including Landis’ most recent ex-girlfriend Ani Baker, who claimed to have been victimized by Landis.
The Panther did not receive responses from Rosenberg or Landis’ attorney, Howard Abramson.
Some narratives described Landis as a tormenter who displayed a “pattern of predation.” In 2017, he fondled a woman at Disneyland while she was waiting in line for a ride before he insisted they have sex, which the woman – who was granted anonymity by The Daily Beast – said was “rough and violent.” Landis was described to psychologically manipulate women and shame them for their weight.
“He’d smack food out of my hand in front of his family to stop me from eating it. He told me that if I worked out more I’d be supermodel pretty,” Dani Manning, one of Landis’ ex-girlfriends, wrote to The Daily Beast. “Except I was not pretty. And I would be told why, in detail.”
Callie Ray was subject to abuse at Landis’ hands and filed a case against him for sexual assault, in which Landis had pretended to be her boyfriend while she was intoxicated and took advantage of her state. The case was later dropped.
Baker shared that she took on the role of his “teacher, PR person and therapist” and tried to help him through the accusations he faced. As they were dating, Landis allegedly displayed aggressive tendencies and once put her in a chokehold and said, “I will (expletive) kill you. Do you understand what I’m saying?” according to The Daily Beast article. Landis was also “expressionless” when he showed her a list of women he’d slept with, accompanied by a key that detailed the ranking of the sexual encounter and the name or ethnicity of each woman, including Baker herself.
“He collected experiences with women for his own enjoyment and ego and then turned those experiences into pain and devaluation, for as many women as he could,” Baker said.
Another anonymous ex-girlfriend recalled Landis would publicly comment on her body and comparing her sexual techniques to previous partners. The degradation went on when she revealed he would show her “abuse and humiliation porn” and induce her to cry because it “was a turn-on.”
“Let me assure you that he did hold me down and rape me while I said ‘no’ over and over,” the ex-girlfriend wrote in her statement. “I didn’t realize that I had been raped consistently and deliberately by this man for two years until today, when I wrote it down.”
Jeanne Walker, Chapman’s director of the student psychological counseling services, told The Panther that sexual assault victims, regardless of gender, may feel humiliated or scared of the reactions they’ll receive from others if they come forward. She also attributed trauma and the need to suppress such incidents as reasons why women or men don’t feel comfortable to speak up.
“There a lot of women that are very fearful about what would happen if they do share that information. Could their families shun them? What would their friends say? Could they lose their job?” Walker said. “There are so many different things that women have to pay attention to in terms of what they share.”
She added that the Me Too movement has improved advocacy, support and awareness around the issue to provide survivors with outlets to be seen and voice their concerns.
“That’s probably a large part of why people are reporting nowadays, even years after the fact, because they have better knowledge about what it is and they let go a little bit of that humiliation and shame and are able to say, ‘No, this happened to me too and I want to be able to step in and help others,’” Walker said.
(Landis) collected experiences with women for his own enjoyment … and then turned those experiences into pain.Ani Baker, Max Landis’ ex-girlfriend
While there was no walk-out over Landis’ presence at Dodge, as he canceled his own appearance, Rosenberg told his class that he wasn’t made aware of Landis’ background and voiced his opinions on the situation to his students the following week.
“It was not intended to hurt you and the last thing that I would have wanted for any of you was to feel unsafe or feel hurt or feel like I didn’t give a (expletive) … that’s not the way I operate,” he said to his students on Nov. 14.
Jake Naturman, a 2019 graduate from Chapman, emailed Rosenberg last fall and expressed his frustrations with Landis’ scheduled appearance – which read, “By putting the prestige of Dodge College above its students and treating our voices as embarrassments to the school, I feel embarrassed to be a part of it,” Naturman wrote.
Naturman told The Panther that just because a figure is controversial, doesn’t mean they aren’t welcome to speak on campus. In efforts to metaphorically break down the wall between the two sides of an argument, he said educating people on opposing viewpoints can be more effective. However, Naturman said that Rosenberg’s class focused on having industry professionals speak on their experiences and success, which was not the appropriate reason to invite Landis.
“Having somebody who achieved that success despite a largely known reputation as somebody who abused women, how we were going to celebrate him despite that?” he said. “We see imperfections in the industry we want to go into. Instead of saying, ‘Well, that’s just the way the system works, we take a stand against the injustices of that system.”
Despite describing Chapman as a university that looks progressive on paper, but has a culture that can be perceived as discriminatory, Naturman said he looks forward to seeing Dodge develop as students express their concerns with situations like Max Landis’s appearance and the Birth of a Nation poster. He added that Bob Bassett’s retirement as dean of the school and faculty member for over 38 years might help Dodge transition into the future.
“Chapman University is an institution that says it believes in its students, women and sexual assault survivors. No school is perfect and Chapman has made significant strides in that department, but in regards to this situation. Landis’ talent was more important to the administration than his actions toward women and the way it made our students react,” Naturman said.
Michael Kowalski, the interim dean of Dodge, declined to comment.
Rosenberg’s first speaker for The New Era of Television course this fall semester will be Michael Gordon, a television packaging agent.