Don’t Worry Darling and Olivia Wilde: Have We Really Learnt Our Lesson?

Charlotte discusses the controversy around the new thriller Don’t Worry Darling.

The drama surrounding the new thriller Don’t Worry Darling has been a bigger topic of conversation than the film itself. Regardless of whether it is real or a mastermind marketing ploy, how the public and press have responded to this, particularly their attitudes towards Olivia Wilde, are quite concerning. For those of you unaware of the convoluted speculation surrounding this film, here is a brief summary:

Olivia Wilde, the actor-turned-director whose debut feature, Booksmart, was a critical success, casts Florence Pugh and Shia LaBeouf as the leads in her new film Don’t Worry Darling. Shia LaBeouf leaves the production due to supposed scheduling conflicts and is replaced by popstar Harry Styles. Months later, LaBeouf is accused of being abusive in his relationship with FKA.

Wilde and the father of her two children, Jason Sudeikis, separate. This is followed by paparazzi photos of Wilde and Styles together that imply a relationship to have blossomed between the two.

Rumours supposedly from members of the film crew suggest tensions between Wilde and Florence Pugh. Apparently, Wilde became enamoured with Styles during shooting and she began to neglect her directorial duties, leaving Pugh to take over these responsibilities. After the film’s production, online sleuths note how Pugh uncharacteristically never promotes the film the way she often does with her other projects, indicating her bad feelings towards its production.

Pugh in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar in August 2022 discusses how she does not like the public focus on the film’s sex scenes after the release of the trailer. This somewhat opposes Wilde’s conversations around the film where she places emphasis on and champions the film’s portrayal of female pleasure and sex, opposing the traditional male gaze. Wilde explains in an interview for Variety that she fired LaBeouf because his “combative” acting style was not conducive to a safe working environment. She suggests this decision was made on Pugh’s behalf.

LaBeouf responds to this interview with private emails and videos from Wilde, showing he was not fired and he actually opted to leave the production himself because he was unable to find time to rehearse with Pugh. Wilde had claimed she wanted LaBeouf out of her production but, in her direct correspondence with LaBeouf, the opposite seems the case. One video sent by Wilde to LaBeouf caused mass uproar as she seemingly tries to convince LaBeouf to stay. Most notably, she says “this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo… if she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it” then there is a chance for the two of them to work together. The condescending nickname “Miss Flo” is arguably proof that Wilde knew Pugh felt uncomfortable around LaBeouf but disregards the safe working environment for women she supposedly cared about.

The film premieres at the Venice Film Festival on 6th September 2022 with Pugh avoiding all press. Many notice Pugh’s glam team wearing shirts with ‘Miss Flo’ printed on them, confirming the speculation around this conflict between Pugh and Wilde.

It is quite incredible how much has been reported about Don’t Worry Darling that is entirely unrelated to the film itself but rather backstage gossip. Public perceptions seemingly lean heavily in favour of Pugh whilst turning severely against Wilde, who comes across as duplicitous.

Wilde is very vocal about her feminist beliefs and her rare position as a successful female director. Repeatedly Wilde has discussed publicly how she has a duty as a director to create a safe working environment for women in particular and how she wants to tell stories that reflect the complexities of women that are not typically told by male directors. The public have shamed Wilde for supposedly undermining her own feminist beliefs, but this intense backlash she has received does seem heavily rooted in underlying misogyny that still firmly exists within the media and society in general.

Wilde’s unpopularity began as soon as it became apparent her and Styles were dating. This is partly due to the fact that Styles’ mostly female fanbase are not typically welcoming of any partner he has. The hate is exacerbated by Wilde being both older than Styles and a mother. She has fallen victim to the sexist expectations of her to always be photographed as a doting mother and, if she is ever seen without her children, it proves she is a bad mother.

This dispute between Pugh and Wilde is relished by the media who love to pit two women against each other and, unsurprisingly, the younger, more ‘relevant’ woman is the most popular in this fight. Pugh’s silence has been praised as classy whilst Wilde’s more vocal stance (a result of the stakes being much higher for her) paints her more as the annoying, loud feminist.

To be a successful female filmmaker in Hollywood is a privilege whilst for men it is their right. Therefore, the smallest err could very easily remove those privileges from a woman whilst male filmmakers like Woody Allen are able to continue with their careers with minimal disturbance. It is extremely problematic how online commentators have since been drawing comparisons between Wilde and Amber Heard. These women and their controversies are so different and yet they face similar vitriolic hate. The expectations for women are so high that fairly trivial gossip results in unjustifiable demonisation of them.

People nowadays reminisce on the 2000s tabloid era as incredibly toxic in its treatment of women like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and yet they fail to recognise how little has changed since then. The response to the Don’t Worry Darling drama proves this, especially how excessive the hate towards Wilde has been for comparably minor transgressions. The public needs to look again at the standards they hold for women and men in the spotlight and notice their biases that more often than not are rooted in misogyny.

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