Crisis management experts say it’s time for Warner Bros. Discovery to talk about Ezra Miller.
The actor, who plays superhero The Flash in the studio’s DC Extended Universe, also in an upcoming big-budget movie, has been under scrutiny in recent months for a pattern of troubling behavior and allegations of wrongdoing.
Miller, 29, made headlines in 2020 after a video surfaced showing them violently asphyxiating a fan. However, incidents of impropriety escalated in 2022 when they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and harassment at a karaoke bar in Hawaii.
Hours before appearing in court on these charges in April, Miller was arrested again after an altercation in which they were charged with throwing a chair and injuring a woman.
Now two protective warrants have been issued, one for a 12-year-old in Massachusetts and one for Gibson Iron Eyes, an 18-year-old Standing Rock activist, who was allegedly cared for by Miller, according to parents Chase Iron Eyes and Sara Jumping Eagle. Authorities have been unable to locate Miller to carry out these orders. Gibson is believed to be traveling with Miller.
Notably, Miller deleted their Instagram account earlier this week after posting cryptic photos and messages that appeared to taunt police.
The allegations against Miller come nearly a year before Warner Bros. “The Flash”, a $100 million film that is part of the studio’s DC franchise.
“When you start to get a series of things, that’s a worrisome pattern,” said Tony Freinberg, president at Edendale Strategies, a crisis management and strategic communications firm. “It’s concerned about what it says about one’s well-being, and it’s concerned about what it says about one’s aptitude to be the face of a major Warner Bros. franchise.”
“Any thing can be a misunderstanding,” he added. “But when you start getting into four, five, six things, you start to get into troubling territory.”
Miller’s talent agent and legal representatives did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
“Silence is not an option,” said Evan Nierman, author of “Crisis Averted” and CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan. “At some point you choose not to say anything, you are communicating a message.”
Warner Bros. had remained silent during Miller’s arrests earlier this year, but company sources said emergency meetings were being held in April to discuss their recent controversies and how the studio would move forward. At the time, it was determined that the film would remain on the slate, but Warner Bros. would pause future projects involving the actor.
The studio even teased “The Flash” during its presentation at CinemaCon in late April, suggesting it still planned to push ahead with the film’s release next year.
Miller has been associated with the DCEU since the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” in 2016 and was a key part of the Warner Bros. produced “Fantastic Beasts” movie series, which has two movies left to film .
“If they’re hoping it just goes away or people forget about this, I think they’re wrong,” Nierman said.
Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The studio is in a difficult place. On social media, DCEU fans are calling for Miller to be recast. But doing this, and re-shooting a movie, is incredibly expensive, and the studio may not be able to make enough profit from the box office to exceed the investment.
It’s also not as easy as keeping the film on the shelf and writing it off on its multi-million dollar budget. Freinberg noted that Warner Bros. is likely evaluating every contract associated with the film to determine what it can legally do in the future.
If actors or producers include movie proceeds in their contracts, Warner Bros. legally required to release the film, regardless of whether Miller violates any morality clause in their own contract.
“I think Warner Bros. is in a terrible position,” Freinberg said. “It’s not typical for people to feel sorry for movie studios, but I really feel sorry for Warner Bros. because they’re in a nightmarish situation trying to figure out what to do because every option they have is bad.”
Warner Bros. recently merged with Discovery in a $43 billion deal, meaning the company’s executives inherit not only content, but the crises that come with it. Experts told CNBC that David Zaslav, the president and CEO of the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery, is likely to be very concerned with how the company will ultimately respond to the situation.
Freinberg suggested that Warner Bros. also might be reluctant to speak publicly about the Miller case because these are allegations.
“An allegation is just an allegation, it has not been proven,” Freinberg said. “They have a right to a fair trial and everything else, but on the other hand, what is said about them is very serious.”
What Warner Bros. also decided it will be the strategy of the studio, both Freinberg and Nierman agree it has to be done quickly.
“The key for Warner Bros. is to ‘be quick, but not in a rush,'” Freinberg said, quoting basketball coach John Wooden. “There’s no time to lose, but they don’t want to announce something that’s half-baked.”
Nierman echoed that sentiment, noting that any statement must be communicated transparently and authentically — and that saying nothing would be a bad choice.
“If they were my client, I would recommend going public with a statement and doing so with a strategic outcome in mind,” Nierman said of Warner Bros. “If they know they intend to release the film, explain why they don’t cut the film at this point. The public and reasonable people would understand.”
He added: “In a flash, your reputation can evaporate, and for that reason they have to take that seriously.”