Hilary Swank’s big, ugly payday

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Hilary Swank onstage in Grozny

Hilary Swank has won two Academy Awards for Best Actress and gets several million dollars a film. For some people, this would be enough. It wasn’t enough for Hilary, though.

Back in 2011, the Putin-installed puppet president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, offered several entertainers princely fees (reportedly in the mid six figures) to take part in an event in Grozny. Several human-rights organizations got wind of these invitations, and contacted the performers in question, explaining to them that Kadyrov was guilty of torturing and killing political opponents and promoting the abuse of women who dress “immodestly.” Some of those invited, including actor Kevin Costner, actress Eva Mendes, and singer Shakira, turned Kadyrov down; among those who chose to take his money and travel to Grozny were actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, violinist Vanessa Mae, singer Seal – and Swank.

Appearing onstage before Kadyrov and an audience of his lackeys, Swank gave what the Guardian aptly described  as a “gushing” speech in which she said she had toured the city earlier that day and “could feel the spirit of the people, everyone felt so happy…it was nice to be around….Really, truly, for me this is a great honor to learn more about you and your country and what you’re building….I hope someday when you have your opera house built, I will have a film premiere here.” She closed by saying, “Happy birthday, Mr. President.” Asked by the event’s MC how she knew it was Kadyrov’s birthday, Swank boasted: “I read. I do my research.”

Thankfully, the human-rights groups didn’t let her off the hook for this shameless display. Returning to Hollywood, she saw reports of her infamy all over the media. A video of her appearance in Grozny was posted on You Tube. Her response? Instead of taking responsibility for her own actions, she blamed her team – including her longtime friend and manager and two of her agents at CAA – and fired them all instantly, even though one source said that her manager hadn’t even known anything about the Chechnyan booking.

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Swank spinning away on Leno

She also issued an apology – described by the showbiz news website TMZ as possibly the “biggest BS apology EVER”– in which she dropped her claim to have done her “research” down the memory hole. The apology didn’t really make any sense: “If I had a full understanding of what this event was apparently intended to be,” she stated, “I would never have gone.” She seemed not to grasp that the problem wasn’t the nature of the event but the nature of the man who was paying her to be there. And then she went on the Tonight Show, where she told Jay Leno that she’d donated her hefty fee to “charity” and that she hadn’t known anything about Kadyrov or Chechnya when she accepted the invitation – a curious claim, given that she did, somehow, find out that it was Kadyrov’s birthday. Leno, characteristically, didn’t ask any tough questions.  

What happened then? We’ll get to that tomorrow.

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