When we heard that someone was developing a comedy around a handful of Vine stars our interest was obviously piqued. We were even more pumped when we found out the project was being helmed by Rainn Wilson, star of The Office and digital innovator behind YouTube’s SoulPancake. Viners have proven their ability to capture millions of eyes and views, but mainstream Hollywood has been slow to find a place for these self-made stars. If anyone is up to that challenge, then it’s Wilson, who has a stellar track record in navigating the worlds of traditional and digital entertainment. You could safely say that our digital hearts were all a-flutter until we took a look at the cast list.
Don’t get me wrong, the proposed cast for the project is a laundry list of Vine leaders; Jerry Purpdrank, Lele Pons, Simone Shepherd and Christian DelGrosso all boast impressive follower and view counts that attest their mastery of the medium. Still, one name stood out from the rest and gave us pause. Curtis Lepore may be a Vine star par excellence, but he’s also an accused rapist. Lepore avoided trial by pleading no contest to a lesser charge in 2013, leaving him with a conviction for felony assault. To make matters worse, the assault in question was committed against Lepore’s then-girlfriend, fellow Vine star Jessi “Smiles” Vazquez. Despite the allegations, and conviction, Lepore remains an important figure in the Vine community.
In recent months social media communities like YouTube have embraced a zero tolerance approach toward abusers in their midst. Vine, in comparison, has been slower to shun creators whose content or personal conduct is troubling if not outright criminal. A number of big name Vine stars, including several of Lepore’s proposed costars, continue to regularly collaborate with him. Lepore’s massive following makes him a potential star-maker, a fact that is no doubt hard for ambitious Viners to ignore, despite the serious allegations against him and his status as a convicted felon. It’s more surprising that any production company would choose him to headline a mainstream project.
The proposed show, Hollywood and Vine, will follow a set of young digital stars as they try to cross over into mainstream Hollywood. Promotional materials suggest that that transition will be a difficult one for the Vine gang. Still, we’re left feeling that maybe it hasn’t been hard enough for Curtis Lepore. The rape claims remain legally unsubstantiated, but Lepore’s assault conviction is a matter of public record as are his tweets following the incident. Most infamously, after signing his plea, Lepore tweeted “FAV this if you would willingly have sex with me.” All of this information is widely available leading us to wonder if Rainn Wilson and his Soul Pancake Productions merely overlooked these red flags or if they consciously determined that they were unimportant compared to Curtis Lepore’s staggering follower and view counts.
Lepore’s talent for Vine is undeniable. He currently boasts 6.2 million followers. A credential that, based on his tweets, he seems to feel makes him immune to both criticism and consequences. In an indirect response to his critics Lepore tweeted “You wanna see me fail? Convince 4.1 million people to unfollow me.” Are viewers really ready to root for a convicted felon to make it in Hollywood? Are they excited to laugh at the antics of an alleged rapist? Rainn Wilson and Soul Pancake Productions seem to think so, but perhaps they and the other Vine stars associated with this project should reconsider.