On Friday, Shia LaBeouf disputed claims made by director Olivia Wilde as to why he was fired from her upcoming film Don’t Worry Darling in a report by Variety. In emails he sent to the publication, LeBeouf asserted that he left the film due to a lack of rehearsal time as opposed to Wilde’s claims in a recent profile, also in Variety, that the two had different working styles, stating that his acting process “require[d] a combative energy.”
The evidence LaBeouf provided in the article included text messages from Wilde and a video she allegedly sent him two days after he claimed to have quit the production, asking if he can “make peace” with actress Florence Pugh, who he would’ve co-starred with in Don’t Worry Darling. The video, in particular, seemed to satisfy social-media users circulating rumors that Pugh developed a beef with Wilde during filming. Folks also pointed out what seemed like a discrepancy between Wilde’s alleged pursuit of the actor amid conflicts with Pugh and the strict “no assholes policy” she had previously discussed in an interview.
Reactions to the article have focused less on LaBeouf’s specific allegations and more on Wilde’s professionalism and values as a self-proclaimed feminist. However, the timing of LaBeouf’s allegations ultimately appear more questionable—and worrying—than Wilde’s competence as a director. Given the Honey Boy actor’s current sexual battery and assault lawsuit from his former girlfriend, singer FKA Twigs, that’s set for trial next April, and his recent public appearances, we might have to strap in for what could be a long, ugly, misogynistic redemption tour.
Before the Variety article made waves, LaBeouf was already making headlines after he announced that he had converted to Catholicism on Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube channel. On Thursday, the actor sat down with the Word on Fire founder for a nearly 90-minute interview—his first following the lawsuit in December—to discuss his new faith and the experiences that led to his conversion, including thoughts of suicide and an upcoming movie in which he portrays St. Padre Pio that’s slated to premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It’s completely possible that LaBeouf, who claims to have sought treatment following the December lawsuit, came to his newfound religion in an authentic manner. But the way this personal factoid has been presented in the media—first as an exclusive for Fox News—is pretty dubious, with headlines and articles announcing LaBeouf’s righteous pivot uncritically and mentioning his current abuse allegations as an unrelated aside.
Earlier this week, LaBeouf also appeared in the trailer for actor Jon Bernthal’s weekly podcast Real Ones, which the American Gigolo star posted on his Instagram page. While their conversation is inaudible, LaBeouf looks teary-eyed in a few brief snippets, implying that their discussion gets into personal territory, as is the direction of the podcast. It’s unclear whether the interview was recorded before or after LaBeouf’s ongoing lawsuit or what he’s promoting. But the fact that Bernthal and his team seemingly had no reservations about including his Fury co-star in marketing visuals—or the optics of the beloved actor, whose career is on the rise, associating himself with him—indicates an increasing apathy toward issues of sexual and domestic abuse in Hollywood despite the initial impact of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements just five years ago.
Much of the apathy was highlighted in the recent Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, where a large number of celebrities and much of the internet publicly supported Depp (with some famous people going out of their way to lampoon Heard) despite substantial evidence in the Virginia case and previous U.K. trial that he had physically and sexually abused her. The verdict, that Heard had defamed Depp in a Washington Post op-ed, also became a rallying cry for right-wing media outlets and pundits, and an apparent signal that the days of holding famous men accountable for their actions were seemingly over.
Considering the public’s overwhelming support of Depp, it’s not hard to envision a similar fate for LaBeouf as he begins court proceedings with his former girlfriend, whose claims he all denies. Like the Pirates of the Caribbean actor, LaBeouf has a strangely cult-ish fanbase online—which includes film accounts on Twitter and Instagram that continue to support him. He’s also a beloved cultural figure in many millennials’ childhoods as the star of the Disney Channel’s Even Stevens and the children’s movie Holes. As the Depp-Heard trial has shown, this particular connection has proven to be the root of the most intense parasocial relationships folks can have with celebrities.
“As the Depp-Heard trial has shown, this particular connection has proven to be the root of the most intense parasocial relationships folks can have with celebrities.”
LeBeouf’s potential comeback primarily seems likely because he’s succeeded at it before. The 2019 film Honey Boy, about his dysfunctional upbringing and relationship with his father, was an effective rebranding of a famously troublesome and bizarrely behaved actor, whose misdeeds, at that point, included plagiarism and a racist rant against a Black police officer, among other legal issues. With some ugly parts of his past being revealed, he was able to contextualize his behavior without necessarily making amends for it or proving that he had changed. And for most of Hollywood, who showered him with praise for his performance and screenwriting, that was enough.
It’s unclear whether LaBeouf will be able to regain his status in Hollywood once again or how the results of the trial will affect his reputation. But for now, he’s given us a glimpse at the level of power he currently can wield against women. In the case of his ongoing tiff with Wilde, her framing of his termination is not at all important in light of the substantial abuse allegations being leveled against him by several women. Yet LaBeouf is able to convince certain online users that he wasn’t combative on set (despite the quotes he submitted from Wilde implying otherwise) and publicly call a woman, who’s already experiencing intense backlash from her current relationship, a liar.
Famous men have proven to be extremely calculated with their images and relentlessly fame-hungry despite whatever horrendous crimes they’ve been accused of (look currently to Brad Pitt), which is why LaBoeuf’s re-emergence as a man of God and a loving father and husband doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence ahead of his trial. With our culture’s easy forgiveness of men and obsession with celebrity, the months leading up to and during what will most likely be a very publicized court case sound like a nightmare.