In 2011, Kirsten Dunst was seemingly on her way to winning her first Oscar. The actress’ performance as a suicidal bride in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is still, to this day, held up as one of the best portrayals of someone suffering from depression in modern cinema. But on the film’s press run, after Dunst won Best Actress for the role at Cannes Film Festival, von Trier ruined any chance of Melancholia – and its lead actress – being celebrated in the way it deserved when, at the press conference following the film’s world premiere, the Danish director told the room that he “understand[s]” Hitler and identifies as a Nazi.
In recent years there’s been a lot of talk about whether the person behind art should impact the way that art is celebrated. There’s Harvey Weinstein, whose film company Miramax is behind some of the best ‘90s and early aughts movies created, there’s R Kelly, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and Miles Davis, whose music is almost impossible to listen to without images of various kinds of abuse coming to mind, and there’s Terry Richardson, who was behind some of the most iconic fashion photography of the past three decades and who was dropped from every major magazine when allegations of sexual abuse were made against him in 2018.
Now, a similar conversation is starting surrounding Shia LaBeouf, who last week was accused of emotional, sexual and physical abuse by British musician FKA Twigs in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles. The pair dated for almost a year after meeting on the set of Honey Boy in 2018 and during that time, Twigs says she was isolated from her support network and subject to strangulation, “violent attacks” and threats.
The lawsuit comes as LaBeouf’s latest project, Pieces of a Woman, a drama that has been garnering Oscars’ buzz, is set to be released on Netflix. Set in Boston and starring Vanessa Kirby and LaBeouf, Pieces of a Woman follows a couple as they prepare to give birth to their first child. But when the home birth goes wrong, and the pair lose the baby at the hands of their flustered midwife, they’re thrust into immense grief, while pursuing justice through the courts.
The film had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, where Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress and the film itself won Best Film. Since then, there’s been deserved Oscars’ attention surrounding Kirby, LaBeouf and the film itself… but that was all before LaBeouf’s assault allegations.
Following Twigs’ lawsuit, Netflix has removed LaBeouf from its award consideration page for Pieces of a Woman, omitting him from the For Your Consideration page for the film, including the movie summary, movie stills and from any award consideration. This decision by the streaming giant has reignited confusion and questions about whether someone who’s been accused of multiple counts of assault in their personal life should be celebrated on the world stage for their professional one.
Of course, in 2017, the Academy Awards faced backlash over a similar situation, when they chose Casey Affleck to win Best Actor for his role in the film Manchester by the Sea, despite accusations of assault rearising during the Me Too movement. Affleck had been accused of sexual harassment in 2010, when two female employees – a producer and a cinematographer on his film I’m Still Here – filed separate lawsuits against him which were both settled for an undisclosed sum. When the Academy ignored this and chose to award him, it was met with immense backlash and Brie Larson, who was somewhat forced to hand Affleck his award after winning Best Actress the year prior (for a role about sexual assault, no less), stood with her arms by her side in protest as the audience applauded him.
Whether the Oscars will choose to boycott LaBeouf as they’ve done in the past to Dunst – for actions that weren’t her own – or ignore the allegations – as they’ve done to a white man, Affleck, in the past for actions that were his own – remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, it’s going to be a lot harder to watch Pieces of a Woman without thinking of the man behind the character, and that in itself is unfair to Kirby and everyone else who worked so hard to create this art.