Vanessa Kirby triumphed over two things to win her Oscar nomination for “Pieces of a Woman” today: The film’s bleak plot and the scandal surrounding her co-star, Shia LaBeouf.
But the British actress, who gives a brilliant, intense performance as a woman who loses her baby in childbirth, is considered a long shot for the win — and LaBeouf’s presence in the film could make the odds longer still.
It doesn’t help that LaBeouf’s character becomes increasingly abusive toward his traumatized wife (Kirby), attempting to force her to have sex with him in one scene, and in another, throwing a large ball at her face while she’s holding a lit cigarette. It’s exactly the kind of behavior that calls to mind allegations by FKA Twigs, 33, in her December lawsuit against LaBeouf, 34, which include “sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress.” Similar claims against him have since been echoed by other women.
Netflix attempted to get out ahead of the potential backlash, removing LaBeouf’s name from some ads as well as its extensive “For Your Consideration” awards site. Kirby also released her own statement several days before “Pieces of a Woman” debuted in early January: “I stand with all survivors of abuse and respect the courage of anyone who speaks their truth. Regarding the recent news, I can’t comment on an ongoing legal case.”
Can an up-and-coming actress catch a break? Kirby, 32, has a fairly lengthy résumé — she wowed as the White Widow in 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” a role she’s set to reprise — and played Princess Margaret in the first two seasons of “The Crown.” She shouldn’t be dragged down by the alleged behavior of a co-star.
Kirby’s had a bad year in that respect: In the lesbian period-drama “The World to Come,” her husband is played by Casey Affleck, Oscar winner for 2016’s “Manchester by the Sea,” who was accused of sexual harassment and subsequently bowed out of presenting at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2018, reportedly due to the backlash.
This isn’t the first time an actress’ chance at Oscar recognition has been potentially damaged by toxicity around her film. As Grazia magazine observed, Kirsten Dunst seemed a likely Oscar nominee in 2011 for her role in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.” She won best actress at the Cannes film fest, but shortly thereafter, “at the press conference following the film’s world premiere, the Danish director told the room that he ‘understand[s]’ Hitler and identifies as a Nazi.” No Oscar nominations were forthcoming for the film.
And in 2017, Kate Winslet was lauded for her performance in Woody Allen’s “Wonder Wheel,” but the air quickly went out of any nomination talk as discussion kicked up around the long-standing allegations of sexual abuse against Allen by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. Winslet has since said that she regretted working with Allen.
Before the allegations against LaBeouf came out, Kirby was the subject of rampant awards speculation, although the grim nature of “Pieces of a Women” is also potentially off-putting to voters, as the Hollywood Reporter noted back in the fall, writing, “It is hard to imagine who the audience is for a two-plus-hour film as oppressively dark as this one, which sometimes feels better suited for the stage (think Eugene O’Neill) than the screen.” Actresses who have been Oscar-nominated for grief-centric roles, they noted, such as Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole” and Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine,” did not score wins.
It remains to be seen how much Kirby will be tainted by association with LaBeouf. Given the preponderance of evidence that he’s a disaster not only in his personal life but on set as well — most recently prompting director Olivia Wilde to implement a “zero a – -hole” policy after he left her “Don’t Worry Darling” — it’s testament to Kirby’s strength and talent that she received the nomination, which is, in itself, a significant achievement.
Or maybe the academy should just add a new category going forward: Best Performance by an Actress Despite her A – – Hole Co-Star.