You Hate Olivia Wilde For the Wrong Reasons
Written by Emi Grant
Edited by Hailey Johnson
Listen, adultery is always wrong. We know this. But in the land where the average marriage spans just 7.4 years and the line between PR and real love is stick thin, cheating just comes with Hollywood territory, and in complete honesty, one of the least morally challenging pop culture issues is a male celebrity getting cheated on. It’s not a pretty thing to say out loud, but with the Hollywood abundance of abandoned children and abused starlets, heartthrobs getting the short end of the stick pales in comparison. So it didn't seem like earth-shattering news when beloved actor Jason Sudeikis got his heart broken by his then-wife, Olivia Wilde. Like the phoenix, Ted Lasso will rise from the ashes.
What followed the (slightly expected) scandal had less precedent. Months of hostility, misogyny, moral ambiguity and even Harry Styles were in store for defamed celeb Olivia Wilde.
If you haven’t been following the drama, here’s the rundown: in 2019, Wilde was set to direct the psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling. The original cast included Shia Labeouf (more on that later) and Florence Pugh. In August of 2020, Labeouf left the project and was replaced by Harry Styles. As the Harry Styles/Olivia Wilde PR disaster/affair spiraled, Wilde’s relationship finally came to a crashing end. After a few months of infidelity, the two separated and Wilde was served custody papers while on stage at CinemaCon promoting the film. This August, Styles gave an interview where he stated that he has “never dated anyone publicly” despite the couple’s increasingly chaotic public presence.
Here’s where things get more complicated. Wilde and Styles’ relationship became the heart and soul of this now inflammatory project. Harry Styles’ relentlessly supportive fanbase was immediately suspicious of Wilde’s actions. There were rumors that Wilde neglected her directing role in favor of her relationship and even that Styles was paid more than Florence Pugh because of his proximity to the director. Wilde denies these rumors adamantly and states that Pugh was paid to reflect her “rising star” status. To make matters even worse, there is an apparent feud between Wilde and Pugh. While nothing is confirmed, spectators cite limited promotion of the film on Pugh’s Instagram, the fact that she will not be attending the press tour, and their difference in opinion on the film’s sex scene.
All of this to say, it’s been a messy couple of months for Olivia Wilde. But why this film? Why this director? It’s certainly not the first time a production has been surrounded by mess, and certainly not the worst. While Twitter has directed its missiles at Wilde, The Flash starring alleged pedophile, abuser and one-time fugitive of the law Ezra Miller has quietly scored an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Miller’s abuse certainly has made headlines, but the two very different celebrity scandals have been treated with similar amounts of animosity by fans.
Perhaps we can trace this discrepancy back to our golden boy, Harry Styles. Recently crowned the King of Pop by Rolling Stone, Styles can do no wrong. He makes great music, has a handful of popular films under his belt and has a relatively interesting sense of style for a man. He’s dominating the pop charts and has unified teenage girls under a reign of funk-pop and cowboy boots.
Where there is a curly mop of brown hair, however, there are parasocial fans. Since his One Direction days, Harry Styles has served as a stand-in for male attention and validation. His just-public-enough persona offers nuggets of good politics, but nothing that will alienate his audience. Following the Supreme Court's decision to ban abortion, Styles held up a sign at a concert that simply read “MY BODY, MY CHOICE” which was made by a fan. When posted to TikTok, the now deleted comments read “and you can tell he’s furious” and “say it louder Harry!”. Though this was a nice sign of solidarity to his largely female fanbase, the act certainly wasn’t revolutionary. Fans made the political statement so he didn’t have to. He lifts his finger, his fans claim it as a sign of resistance against forms of oppression.
So, what do you do when an adulterous harlot challenges the perfectly idealized vision of your celebrity boyfriend? Obviously, you stick a scarlet A to her chest and get the hashtag #TimesUpOlivia trending on Twitter. At every turn, Styles and Wilde’s relationship continuously tarnishes her reputation while it bolsters his. When Styles declined to claim his relationship publicly (a questionable choice as a boyfriend, but an OK one as a celebrity), he was entitled to his privacy while Wilde was desperate and pathetic. When Florence Pugh was allegedly paid less than Styles, Wilde was to blame. Despite the fact that directors don’t and have never set the pay of the actor, it was Wilde’s fault directly. Styles and Wilde had equal power to speak up for Pugh but of course, the burden fell squarely on her shoulders.
Just when it couldn’t be more complicated, Shia LeBeouf rears his big, ugly head. Wilde alleges she fired LeBeouf because of his erratic behavior and her “priority was making [Pugh] feel safe and supported” during filming. A video of Wilde pleading with LeBeouf to stay in the film and calling for a wake-up call for “Miss Flo” says otherwise. Shortly after his departure from the film, singer and actress FKA Twigs went public with allegations of abuse during the course of her relationship with LeBeouf.
We can’t know exactly what went down on that set. It’s possible Wilde was unaware of Lebeouf’s relentless abuse of FKA Twigs. It’s also possible that she knew. Either way, this phonecall suggests that Wilde is guilty of trying to sacrifice Florence Pugh’s safety and comfort for the sake of a leading man.
This all weaves an intricate tapestry of misplaced accountability and misogyny. Under the guise of feminism and love for Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde has become the ultimate scapegoat. The amorphous blob of hatred for the director has the conversation about enabling almost impossible to have without sexist overtones. The hashtag #TimesUpOlivia reads more like a smear campaign than an earnest call for safer work environments for women. We need to talk about gendered violence and how women in power often feed into this system of oppression. Olivia Wilde is not completely innocent in this. These conversations are impossible, however, when thousands of fans are breathing “slut” in the same sentence.
Shia LeBeouf is set to stand trial in 2023 for abuse and assault. As the date of the trial looms, LeBeouf is on a redemption warpath. He’s taken a half-victim, half-villain approach to reentering the public eye –– carefully admitting to “manipulative” behavior, but avoiding real accountability. He’s effectively weaponized the film drama, positioning himself as a victim of Wilde’s cruel lies. Wilde certainly did enable bad behavior, but ultimately she is not the abuser. More than enabling, more than cheating, Olivia Wilde’s biggest crime is dating a man the public deems too good for her. When we call Wilde the villain, we let abusers like LeBeouf off the hook. He’s successfully used the public’s misogyny to turn a tale of his abuse into a gossip story about Olivia Wilde. In advocating for victims like FKA Twigs, we cannot fall for manipulation tactics. Though we imagine a world with perfect victims and evil villains, the truth is far more intricate. Women can be nuanced figures –– problematic and complicated. Through a cheating scandal and Harry Styles stan wars, we can unfold a puzzle of misogyny, enabling, and even violence. Sometimes, celebrity gossip is that deep.
Emi Grant is a writing MFA student at the New School for Social Research in New York. Check out her most read article with the Madwoman Collective "In Defense of the Pick Me Girl."