Whenever I write about allegedly abusive men seeking a second act — which, thanks to an abundance of material, I have to do quite often — I always get emails from other men demanding to know what kind of apology would satisfy me. A few weeks ago, I received a message about my story on Mel Gibson, hot off his terrible display in the unwatchable Fatman. “Yes Mel Gibson has had some questionable personal moments in his past but people do change,” some guy named John wrote to me. “I think you ought to let people watch the movie before you throw your feminist, millenial, [sic] me too movement spin on this.”
Great points all around, John. People do change — except when they don’t. Last week, we were reminded, yet again, that just because a man has moved on from the allegations of abuse against him — usually by ignoring them, waiting for the public to forget, or even by making art as a way to ask for forgiveness — doesn’t mean we have to move on along with him.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that singer FKA Twigs, whose legal name is Tahliah Barnett, is suing her ex-boyfriend, actor Shia LaBeouf. In her suit, she claims that he abused her physically and mentally during their 2019 relationship, which lasted just under a year. Her goal was “to explain how even a critically acclaimed artist with money, a home and a strong network of supporters could be caught in such a cycle.” The suit also mentions another ex of LaBeouf’s, stylist Karolyn Pho, who made similar claims, including that he pinned her to a bed and headbutted her while he was drunk. After the article was published, singer Sia tweeted her own allegations against LaBeouf, calling him a “pathological liar, who conned [her] into an adulterous relationship claiming to be single.”
While LaBeouf has largely denied the allegations from Barnett and Pho, he did admit that he has a long history of abusive behavior. “I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel,” he said in a statement to the Times. “I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I’m ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say.”
Beyond these recent allegations, LaBeouf’s history is replete with other accusations of abuse. In 2015, he reportedly got into a physical fight with his then-girlfriend, Mia Goth, who was seen with a black eye the next day. He’s been arrested for disorderly conduct and has made racist remarks, which he’s generally attributed to his alcoholism. (He now claims to be sober.) Last November, he came out with his magnum opus, Honey Boy, a semiautobiographical movie about a child actor and his abusive father. He plays the father, who very closely mirrors his real-life dad. The movie is an empathetic look not just at his abusive father, but at LaBeouf himself, contextualizing his own traumatic childhood and how it later turned him into a man who traumatized others.
I wrote about Honey Boy at the time — and about LaBeouf’s career and personal life — impressed by how the movie made sense of his trauma as a child, which inevitably led to him harming other people as he got older. Honey Boy was largely adored when it came out. It was a good movie but even better for damage control, giving the public another facet of LaBeouf: flawed, but ultimately well intentioned. Importantly, it seemed to address where his documented history of harmful behavior stems from and how he planned to change. “[Honey Boy] doesn’t necessarily absolve LaBeouf of his reckless, often abusive behavior, but it does suggest a new model for how emotionally damaged young men can heal,” I wrote at the time. “He isn’t just saying he’s sorry — though he appears to be — but rather, he’s giving a blueprint for how others can evolve.”