The strange case of Shia LaBoeuf keeps getting stranger. In a claim backed by fellow artists, the actor said he was raped earlier this year — a year in which he has been accused of plagiarism and put on trial for disorderly conduct. What happened to the Disney star?
In a recently published interview with Dazed magazine, actor Shia LaBeouf told writer Aimee Cliff that he was raped by a woman during his performance art show #IAMSORRY in February.
“One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for 10 minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me,” the Transformers star wrote.
In the series of emails, Cliff and LaBeouf covered topics like metamodernism, faith and cynicism. LaBeouf then agreed to do what he calls “the #interview” where the two sit and stare at each other in silence. The video of the hour-long “metamodernist encounter” can be found online.
LaBeouf’s had a hard year overall. In June, he was charged with disorderly conduct, harassment and criminal trespass after being accused of drunken and disruptive behaviour in a Broadway venue. He spent a little time in jail, but the charges were settled this week on the ground that LaBeouf would continue seeking treatment for alcohol addiction.
In the interview, the 28-year-old Fury actor said the show #IAMSORRY was a response to his “genuine existential crisis” after he was accused of plagiarism when he lifted portions of a Daniel Clowes short story for a film he was working on. He also wore a paper bag over his head in February to the Berlin premiere of Nymphomaniac as a sign of remorse.
The #IAMSORRY art exhibit involved LaBeouf sitting behind a desk with a similar paper bag saying “I am not famous anymore” over his head. For five days, members of the public queued up to be able to sit alone with him with a prop of their choice. Part of the condition of his art was that he couldn’t speak.
Since revealing his experience, LaBeouf has been pilloried by critics, online and in the media.
TV personality Piers Morgan took to Twitter to rail against LaBeouf. “Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man,” Morgan posted. “LaBeouf sat there with a paper bag on his head doing & saying nothing as he was ‘raped’ — because he was engaged in ‘performance art’? BS.”
Joining a growing chorus condemning Morgan’s tweets, Rebecca Rose for Jezebel wrote, “This is not the way to help or protect survivors of rape or to further the dialogue we should be having about how we treat victims in general.”
The Guardian’s Van Badham said, “In LaBeouf, mainstream suspicion of contemporary art has intersected with the ingrained cultural habit of victim-blaming, and the condemnation has been merciless.”
“Morgan chastised LaBeouf for ‘doing and saying nothing’… He should consider the profound shock to the body and the mind that occurs from a sexual assault,” Badham continued.
To show that he was in shock, LaBeouf describes what happened when his girlfriend came into the room after the assault: “I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.”
Morgan’s comments caused LaBeouf’s collaborators, British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, to offer some clarification. They confirmed that LaBeouf was sexually assaulted and said they intervened as soon as they became aware of the incident and “put a stop to it”.
Salon’s Erin Keane pointed out that while LaBeouf is not a bad actor, “he’s turned himself into a walking stunt double of himself, a semi-professional provocateur” because of “his relentless pursuit of some dose of art-world cool”.
In the Dazed interview, LaBeouf said, “I am a deeply ironic, cynical person. I was raised on The Simpsons and South Park, it’s my default setting… Our generation wants to change things, we just don’t know how or where to look.”
Still, “LaBeouf is not the first performance artist to cede control and subject himself to the whims of those who lined up to observe him”, said The Washington Post. In Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0, performed in Naples in 1974, she “allowed the public to manipulate her body with objects including a rose, a knife, a gun and a bullet. She finished the piece bleeding with her breasts exposed and the loaded gun pointed at her temple”.
Jill Filipovic for Cosmopolitan commented how Abramovic, decades later, still lists the performance as the “most terrifying” she had ever done. “Few would deny that Abramovic was assaulted, even though it happened in the context of her art,” Filipovic wrote. “So why is it so hard to believe that LaBeouf may also have been hurt? Why are people like Piers Morgan so invested in being the arbitrator of someone else’s trauma?”
“To mock or reject LaBeouf’s claim is to make a backwards step with regard to sexual equality. We cannot expect that the rape of women is approached with sensitivity, respect and with intricate attention to the nuanced behaviours that led to it, but then reject LaBeouf outright as ‘it doesn’t sound quite right’,” wrote Grace Dent for The Independent.