'Rust' charges met with mixed reaction: sympathy and hate for Alec Baldwin
The family of "Rust" cinematographer Halyna Hutchins says it is "a comfort" that no one in New Mexico is above the law following the decision to bring criminal charges against actor-producer Alec Baldwin and the film's armorer.
More than 15 months after Hutchins' 2021 shooting death, Baldwin and "Rust" weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed are facing felony charges related to the October 2021 incident.
Baldwin, 64, who stars in and is a producer on the low-budget western, was charged Thursday with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and Gutierrez Reed, who loaded the prop gun that was fired by Baldwin, is facing involuntary manslaughter charges. Assistant director David Halls reached a plea agreement on a misdemeanor charge in connection with the fatal shooting, which also wounded director Joel Souza.
In a statement issued through an attorney, Hutchins' family thanked the Santa Fe sheriff and the district attorney for their "thorough investigation" and determining that the charges are "warranted for the killing of Halyna Hutchins with conscious disregard for human life."
The family added, "We support the charges, will fully cooperate with this prosecution, and fervently hope the justice system works to protect the public and hold accountable those who break the law."
An attorney for Baldwin on Thursday called the promised criminal charges a "terrible miscarriage of justice" and said "we will fight these charges, and we will win."
Initial reactions to the shooting were swift and met with shock by Hollywood. Many celebrities called for better gun safety on sets as word traveled that people in New Mexico's tightknit film industry who worked on the "Rust" set had walked out in protest of poor working conditions. Since then, however, developments in the long-running case have been met with a quieter response within the industry — but with not complete silence.
SAG/AFTRA, the actors union, had a strong reaction slamming the decision.
"The prosecutor's contention that an actor has a duty to ensure the functional and mechanical operation of a firearm on a production set is wrong and uninformed," the guild said in a statement. "An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert. Firearms are provided for their use under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm. In addition, the employer is always responsible for providing a safe work environment at all times, including hiring and supervising the work of professionals trained in weapons."
In a lengthy Twitter thread, Kirk Acevedo, an actor who has appeared in HBO's "Band of Brothers," Fox's "Fringe" and the CW's "Arrow," called Baldwin's incoming involuntary manslaughter charge "the most ridiculous charge ever" and placed blame squarely on Gutierrez Reed.
Citing his own experiences, he tweeted: "The majority of those actors never fired a real gun in their lives and those who did still had zero clue on how to properly hold or fire a live weapon let alone the prop weapons we were given. It was up to the technical advisors we had on those sets to show us or the armorer."
"The Good Wife" creator Robert King wrote in two tweets: "To charge Alec Baldwin as a producer is one thing, but to charge him as an actor seems to misunderstand the chain of responsibility on a movie set. If you’re charging the actor, you should be charging the director, all producers, prop master, many others. The fact the DA didn’t seems to suggest she’s trying to make a name for herself."
"@sagaftra needs to demand use of fake weapons henceforth with effects done in post," "Abbott Elementary" actress Lisa Ann Walter tweeted. "I’ll be making the motion at the next National Board Meeting."
California Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) said he once again plans to reintroduce legislation this year to establish safety standards in Hollywood after attempts to pass new laws failed in 2022. He said an alliance of studios and unions failed to find common ground to back changes.
“I’ve been working with stakeholders and leaders in the industry, including many entertainment workers, to push these real reforms forward and to avoid yet another tragedy on set,” Cortese said in a statement. “What we’ve learned is this is an issue that needs to be addressed across the industry, rather than incident-by-incident, to bolster safety as a whole and ensure we keep productions safe for everyone.”
“Today’s news reinforces the fact that anyone on set can be the tragic victim of the lack of statutory safety protocols," Cortese added.
The charging decision comes three months after Baldwin and the film’s other producers struck a proposed settlement agreement with Hutchins’ family to end the wrongful death civil lawsuit filed early last year. The family initially blamed Hutchins’ death on cost-cutting measures and reckless behavior by Baldwin and others.
Meanwhile, right-wing pundits who have long been critical of Baldwin's liberal views — and his Emmy-winning impersonation of former President Trump — reacted with glee to the legal fallout.
"Great to see that Alec Baldwin is at long last being charged for killing that young woman. I hope they throw the book at him because he demonstrated dishonesty and utter lack of humility every day thereafter," tweeted conservative commentator Candace Owens, who clashed with Baldwin's daughter Ireland on Twitter in the days after the shooting.
Here's a sampling of the mixed reaction to Thursday's charges:
This is the most ridiculous charge ever.
I understand he was a producer but every single producer on the movie should be held accountable for safety measures not being enforced not just Baldwin.
The Armorer is 100% at fault here…
— KID VICIOUS🔪 (@kirkacevedo) January 19, 2023
Virtually every film we see today has gunfire in it; yet a mistake like this happened on this movie set. Of course actors use guns handed to them—they are following a script. Blaming the actor is bizarre. https://t.co/GR4cwSoMWP
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) January 19, 2023
I’ve said this before, and still strongly believe it. The industry has strict protocol when guns are anywhere near set, if those were followed she would be alive today. Her tragedy is the result of failing to maintain a safe working environment in an attempt to save money.
— Ethan Embry (@EmbryEthan) January 19, 2023
Santa Fe District Attorney well-within the law in New Mexico to charge Alex Baldwin with Involuntary Manslaughter. I feel badly for all, but his gun had a live round, he should have checked weapon before he pulled the trigger, and it was criminally negligent not to do so.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) January 19, 2023
To all Hollywood elites your feelings don’t matter the truth does
— Antonio Sabato Jr (@AntonioSabatoJr) January 19, 2023
Maybe Alec Baldwin will be lucky enough to share a cell with Michael Avenatti.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) January 19, 2023
i guess we'll found out more but i still don't totally understand how what happened is Alec Baldwin's fault if someone handed him a loaded gun and told him it was unloaded.
— Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) January 19, 2023
Hey, it's kinda weird to be excited about the Alec Baldwin news.
— Chris Manzo (@chris_manzo) January 19, 2023
Great to see that Alec Baldwin is at long last being charged for killing that young woman.
I hope they throw the book at him because he demonstrated dishonesty and utter lack of humility every day thereafter.
— Candace Owens (@RealCandaceO) January 19, 2023
They just threw the book at Alec Baldwin. Not only is he facing an involuntary manslaughter charge but they added another option which would increase the sentence from up to 18 months, to a five year MANDATORY sentence.
— Dan Abrams (@danabrams) January 19, 2023
It is not the responsibility of the actor. For an artist to be handed a prop gun, and told its completely safe, and then held responsible when it's not, is outrageous. Actors play scenes. Armorers and prop people make sure props are safe.
— steven pasquale (@StevePasquale) January 19, 2023
Times staff writers Meg James, Wendy Lee, Anousha Sakoui and Christie D'Zurilla contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.