woman wearing a nurse costume

Courtesy of Focus Features

After a man criticized ‘Promising Young Woman,’ people realized he ran a revenge porn site

'Now that was a plot twist.'

 

Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Published Apr 5, 2021   Updated Apr 7, 2021, 11:53 am CDT

Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell’s Oscar contender, is a particularly polarizing film. The discourse around it has fueled both thoughtful and boneheaded criticism for months, but in the case of one of its detractors, it also led to a comments section dragging him for his history of racist and misogynistic rhetoric. Also, he used to run a revenge porn site.

Over the weekend, the New York Times’ Facebook page shared a link to the latest episode of Still Processing, a podcast hosted by Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, which delves into Promising Young Woman. The post doesn’t really indicate where Morris and Wortham land on it or what parts they felt the movie got right and wrong; the point of the post is that it’s a tease to the podcast episode, which is available to stream on the New York Times’ website and on podcasting platforms.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Promising Young Woman.

Regardless of whether people listened to the episode, it provided many people a place to spout their thoughts on Promising Young Woman, particularly on its ending. The end is shocking, particularly for those expecting Cassie (Carey Mulligan), the film’s protagonist, to get full revenge over the people responsible for her best friend’s death. Cassie does get her revenge in the end, but she doesn’t get to live to see it. She’s smothered with a pillow by her best friend’s rapist (Chris Lowell) while Cassie’s contingency plan—which included a video of her best friend’s rape that was passed around sent to a sympathetic lawyer—ultimately resulted in his arrest.

“It’s a terrible movie,” wrote Craig R. Brittain, who was among those to comment on the post, from a verified Facebook account. “Look, I was rooting for her – the dialogue is a joke. You could drive a truck through the plot gaps. The ending is poorly written. This movie should win a Razzie, not an Oscar.”

In a subsequent reply, Brittain added that “What the audience deserved – and what I wanted – was a scene where none of the film’s villains survived.”

(Promising Young Woman has been nominated for five Oscars—best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best actress, and best film editing—and zero Razzies.)

In many cases, the criticism of a film—or the discourse that might follow as others pushed back—might not get far beyond the comments of that particular post; the ideology of “don’t read the comments” is also prevalent. But soon, many of the commenters took to his replies to highlight what they saw as hypocrisy.

https://twitter.com/Dorvid4/status/1378721054927978497

“Are you mad because you would be one of the guys she would be taking her revenge on…? Mr. Revenge Porn Guy?” one person replied, who then linked to the Wikipedia page for Is Anybody Down?. “Yes, everybody. Craig was an owner of a revenge porn site where men could post naked photos and videos of their ex-girlfriends and include their full names and contact information. This guy made the women pay him to have the pictures removed. He closed the site when the FBI became interested. I wish I was kidding.”

Brittain is one of the people behind Is Anybody Down?, which launched in 2011 and, in practice, operated as a hub for revenge porn and extortion. Anyone could upload private images (and include identifying information) to the site, which would then charge victims whose photos ended up on his website between $200 and $500 to have their private images and information taken down. When interviewed about the website in 2013, Brittain blamed victims for not running background checks on who they sent those photos to.

Is Anybody Down? shut down in 2013 amid an investigation into Brittain and the website by the Federal Trade Commission, although Brittain shifted the contents of Is Anybody Down? to several other domains he owned. By 2015, Brittain and the FTC reached a settlement in which Brittain was banned from sharing nude photos or videos online and had to destroy the photos and information he was sent. (Ironically, Brittain attempted to use a DMCA request to Google to have nearly two dozen stories about him running a revenge porn website taken down.)

Other commenters provided additional context to Brittain, who in recent years has run for Arizona senate as a far-right candidate. In 2018, the Phoenix New Times reported on Brittain’s Twitter account, where he complained he was being shadowbanned because he didn’t have a verified Twitter account, and highlighted previous racist messages Brittain appeared to have sent. Britain’s account was suspended in March 2018 for sharing conspiracy theories around the Parkland shooting, which resulted in Brittain suing Twitter to get his account restored. When Brittain tried to run again in the 2020 Arizona Senate election, he made headlines for sending racists texts to a business owner.

In response to hundreds of people dragging him for his past, Brittain took people focusing on personal attacks or his politics as proof that he was right. That assertion isn’t true; commenters also dragged Brittain for his opinions on Promising Young Woman.

“I like that people didn’t actually read what I said and just got angry rather than attempting to defend the film’s errors, they just blamed all of it on me, because insulting me is more interesting than the film was,” he wrote. Brittain doesn’t believe that critiquing a film should have anything to do with your politics, that people are only saying they liked the film because “politics are involved,” and he thinks that the audience deserved to see all of the film’s villains die by the end of the film.

He also doesn’t see himself as part of Promising Young Woman’s depiction of rape culture and the “boy’s club.” As some commenters highlighted, his history of running a revenge porn website likely puts him in that club.

That isn’t to say that Promising Young Woman isn’t above criticism, because it’s not. Commenters are having thoughtful discussions, particularly about their dissatisfaction with the ending in the comments of the Times’ post. Several reviews and pieces of criticism even wrestle with many of those ideas and some of which Brittain took issue with. The main difference is that when someone who’s best known for running a revenge porn site is going to complain about it, people are going to come ready with receipts.

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*First Published: Apr 5, 2021, 4:41 pm CDT