Open Letter to Shia LaBeouf re: Your Arrest, Your Apology and Your Addiction

Don't apologize for your behaviour, apologize for your privilege

Actor Shia LaBeouf at his anti-Donald Trump protest, wearing a red poncho, red hat and plaid jacket

(Photo: Getty)

Dear Shia LaBeouf,

When an ex-child star like yourself takes a wrong turn and begins their fall from grace, a small part of our inner child desperately grasps on to those fond Disney Channel memories. We always hope—and we’re being completely genuine—that you will turn out just fine. But you’ve become a celebrity that people love to hate; someone even punched your lookalike, thinking it was you. Shia, we don’t enjoy seeing you mess up.

As a celeb who’s been so outspoken about systemic racism and violence, you weren’t someone we expected to go on a racist tirade after being arrested for disorderly conduct (well, the arrest part wasn’t really a surprise since it’s happened before). But on July 8, that’s exactly what went down, and there’s video footage to prove it.

We were rooting for you but your latest antics have gone way too far.

In your expletive-filled rant, you claim you were being arrested for “being white” and went on to say, “You got a president that don’t give a f-ck about you, and you’re stuck in a police force that doesn’t give a f-ck about you. You want to arrest white people who give a f-ck?” In the video footage, you even tell a Black police officer that he’s going to hell because of his skin colour. While we can perhaps understand the intent behind the first two statements—which were presumably nods to President Donald Trump’s racist policies and racism in the American police force—we still aren’t really sure why some people on Twitter are jumping to your defence.

Sorry, Shia, but it might take a while for you to recover from this, if you ever do. Your white privilege is showing, and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s the thing: you don’t get to decide when to be anti-establishment and supportive of anti-racist movements, and when to use your white privilege to help you out of sticky situations. You don’t get to pat yourself on the back for being progressive, and then use your prior good deeds as a get-out-of-jail-free card when racism slips out. You do not get to be inclusive, only on your terms. And it’s certainly not OK to use addiction as an excuse, as much your struggle may have been a contributing factor to your outburst.

In the apology letter you released on July 12, you wrote, “I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and make no excuses for it. My outright disrespect for authority is problematic to say the least, and completely destructive to say the worst. It is a new low. A low I hope is a bottom. I have been struggling with addiction publicly for far too long.”

Addiction does not cause racism. While your open struggle with substance abuse is one we’re sympathetic of, using it to mask the privilege you practiced here is wrong. Don’t apologize for your behaviour, apologize for your privilege.

Your name didn’t always incite rage. You were the curly-haired goofball that kept us laughing on Even Stevens and you displayed effortless talent as outlaw vagabond-cum-magazine salesman Jake in American Honey—a role that was more or less a scripted version of yourself. We were rooting for you to become something big. You had so many opportunities to impress us and, sometimes, you did.

You started to actually do pretty cool, progressive things with your fame, justifying our continued (albeit confusing to some) obsession with you. Many in the United States were grieving when Donald Trump became President. In response, you launched #HeWillNotDivideUs, an artistic protest against Trump-era racism. When you set up a video camera outside New York City’s Museum of the Moving Image and asked people to chant, “He will not divide us” into a live-stream camera, we were into it.

We stuck by you when you were arrested for allegedly assaulting a neo-Nazi who crashed your #HWNDU art installation with his anti-Semitic slurs. We supported you when you left Broadway show, Orphans, after your “beouf” with Alec Baldwin—himself no stranger to controversy—citing creative differences. And the only Transformers movie we watched was the one you were in which, in our humble opinion, was pretty darn generous of us.

Over the past five or so years, watching you has been equal parts cringe-worthy as it’s been provocative. Your strange behaviour—like wearing a paper bag over your head at a movie premiere and dressing like a college kid late for his 8 a.m. class—has been entertaining, to say the least. We sorta saw you then as a wayward child—we kept a close eye, but let you wander off to experiment and soul-search (or create “performance art,” as you like to call it).

But we can’t—and won’t—separate the art from the artist this time. You have to take responsibility for your actions and check your privilege at the door. Nevertheless, we are hopeful for your recovery and future sobriety.



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