Do we like Shia LaBeouf yet? Aside from the fact that he hasn’t been considered remotely relatable since his early days as the pudgy and obnoxious Louis Stevens on Disney’s Even Stevens, we seem to have collectively shifted our perception of the actor-turned-artist from loveable personality to, well, a bit of a weirdo.
But LaBeouf’s own perceptions and goals have shifted as well. Instead of fetching leading roles in mainstream films, he’s invested most of his time and energy into a skeptical art (performance art?) career, his most recent project of mention being “He Will Not Divide Us”, a collaboration with Nastja Sade Ronkko and Luke Turner. As you can probably discern from its title, the project is directed toward Donald Trump.
On Inauguration Day, the actor placed a camera outside of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, and invited the public to repeat the sentence He will not divide us into the camera. The project’s intent is to keep streaming these messages 24/7 throughout Trump’s entire duration in office.
As you can see in the video below, LaBeouf was arrested during the project and the bust was caught on the camera’s live stream. As fellow protesters passionately (and some quite impassionately) chant “He will not divide us,” you see a lone officer approach and confront LaBeouf, which results in a heated altercation and the 30-year-old actor being placed in handcuffs and escorted out of view. After a considerable time away from the camera’s lens, the actor later returs walking hand-in-hand with his mother and wife.
The police were called to the scene after LaBeouf had allegedly gotten into another argument wherein he reportedly tore off a man’s scarf off and scratched his face. According to authorities, the victim was not hospitalized. Officers confirm that LaBeouf was charged with misdemeanor assault and harassment. He was not jailed, but instead issued an appearance ticket and instructed to attend court in April.
This is hardly LaBeouf’s first brush with the law, nor is it his first nationally recognized art project. In 2014, he was notably arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespass at a Broadway performance of Cabaret. In November 2015, LaBeouf made headlines for an art project that featured himself watching all of his movies for three full days at the Angelika Film Center in Manhattan. A month later, LaBeouf set up his own call center in Liverpool’s Fact gallery, where he and two collaborators fielded calls to “touch his soul.”
And let’s not forget the iconic red carpet moment when LaBeouf donned a paper bag on his head with I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE written across the front while attending the premiere of his film Nymphomaniac in 2014.
But the question remains: Should we applaud LaBeouf for being so outspoken on an issue many Americans support? Considering the fact that actors like Meryl Streep (who indirectly spoke about Trump at the Golden Globes to an agreeable audience) are getting mass amounts of support for expressing themselves, why don’t we feel the same way about Shia?
Sure he’s brash in his conduct, but his goal is no different from others. Though LaBeouf’s activism has incited violence on multiple occasions (a spokesperson at the museum has mentioned there have been incidents of neo-nazi hate speech), we should recognize that what Shia is doing is just as—if not more—impactful and ambitious than what other celebrities have pledged, despite his methods being more laden with conflict.
He’s certainly no Ché Guevara, but there is at least some reason to respect Shia. Instead of using his celebrity as an elitist platform issuing his message through the megaphone that is social media, he insists on influencing change from the ground level, igniting waves of excitement among the masses that will slowly build toward the top and billow with his message. He’s quite literally chosen to stand with the masses as opposed to witnessing his own influence from the privileged tower of celebrity.
So, however you choose to perceive LaBeouf’s activism—as art or merely as a privileged actor seeking attention—there’s no denying that he is one of the few celebrities using more than just words in an attempt to make a difference.