The Outrage Over Shia LaBeouf At The Oscars Is Getting Serious

Actor Shia LaBeouf walked the Oscar red carpet with friend and co-star Zack Gottsagen on Feb. 9, 2020. The Peanut Butter Falcon duo was seen embracing and laughing early in the evening, but when the men took the stage to present the award for best live-action short, Gottsagen's historic moment stirred up a firestorm online. A virtual Twitter mob took LaBeouf to task for seemingly giggling as his partner tripped over his lines.

LaBeouf came under fire almost immediately by hordes of viewers on social media, but others are coming to the actor's defense and accusing critics of overreacting and misjudging what they saw during the live broadcast. It's up for debate as to whether the 33-year-old was simply laughing to ease Gottsagen's nerves, or if the Honey Boy star was, in fact, making fun of someone with disabilities. Let's take a closer look and let you decide for yourself.

Many Twitter users thought LaBeouf was "impatient" and "disrespectful"

Live-tweeting during a televised event inevitably leads to an overabundance of hot takes from users who have not necessarily stopped to consider both sides of every story. The internet was clearly chomping at the bit for the chance to condemn and "cancel" LaBeouf via social media. 

"Shia LaBeouf literally laughed at kid with special needs... wtf," tweeted one critic (per the New York Post.) "Did anyone else think Shia Labeouf seemed annoyed with his co-presenter?" quipped another viewer. The Transformers star was called "disrespectful" and "distasteful" in a seemingly endless stream of disses. As one all-knowing Twitter user predicted: "I think #ShiaLabeouf is going to have a little explaining to do after his behavior with his #Oscar co-presenter."

Lucky for LaBeouf, others jumped into the fray to attempt to explain the situation on his behalf.

The Peanut Butter Falcon's director defended Shia Labeouf

In the face of harsh criticism, both fans and friends came to Shia LaBeouf's defense, sharing both their disgust over the public's quick assumptions and praise for LaBeouf's behavior.

"Shia Labeouf wanted Zach Gottsagen to have an amazing and life changing moment. If you've seen Peanut Butter Falcon, you know that he has tremendously impacted Shia's life in a positive way more than he could have ever imagined," one supporter tweeted. "Beyond ridiculous!" another viewer said. "He was smiling, he was not laughing. Put away your shovels and stop looking for dirt to shovel!"

"90% of twitter right now has never heard of The Peanut Butter Falcon and doesn't know about the sweet friendship between Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen," another user tweeted. "Direct your misguided judgement somewhere else."

Even Alma Har'el, director of both The Peanut Butter Falcon and Honey Boy, spoke out on the matter, tweeting: "Shia was offered to present an Oscar. He said he would do it if he can share that moment with his beloved co-star Zach Gottsagen who we all adore. It's stressful up there..."

Zack Gottsagen changed Shia LaBeouf's life for the better

The Associated Press named Zack Gottsagen a "Breakthrough Entertainer" in 2019, after his starring turn in The Peanut Butter Falcon. In the independent film, Gottsagen plays Zak, a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from his assisted living home to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. Along the way, Zak befriends a troubled fisherman (Shia LaBeouf), who is also on the run. The two become allies — forging a friendship that truly transcends film and screen.

In fact, LaBeouf credits Gottsagen with helping him get — and stay — sober. As The Hollywood Reporter explains, LaBeouf went out drinking one night after work and got arrested, jeopardizing the future of the film and creating a tense working environment, particularly for LaBeouf. "I'm on the set, can't look at anybody in the eyes, and the only person who I feel like is giving me any kind of connection, non-judgmentally, is Zack," LaBeouf told The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast. "He basically looked me in the eye and said, I'm going to paraphrase, 'Don't f**k this up for me, this is my only chance.'"

Shia LaBeouf's questionable behavior shouldn't overshadow Zack Gottsagen's moment

Despite this controversy, Zack Gottsagen made history the moment he walked onto the stage at the Dolby Theatre at the 92nd Academy Awards. He became the first actor with Down syndrome to present an award in Oscar history.

The Ruderman Family Foundation, an organization that advocates for inclusion, celebrated the occasion with a statement by president Jay Ruderman: "For nearly a century, disability has been glaringly left out of the conversation on diversity in Hollywood. Tonight's award presentation marks a substantive step forward for both the Academy and the entertainment industry as a whole. It is our sincere hope that this milestone serves as a springboard for greater inclusion in Hollywood, including through increased authentic casting of actors with disabilities in disability-based roles, and able-bodied based roles."

Some viewers also praised Shia LaBeouf for his role in the historic moment. "Lay off Shia LaBeouf," one dad tweeted. "As the parent of a child with Down Syndrome I can tell you with certainty what you saw wasn't impatience, it was caring concern. What you saw was someone who wanted so much for Zack to do well that you struggle between helping and stepping on their moment.

In an industry plagued by #MeToo and the perpetual lack of gender and race diversity, Gottsagen helped the Academy take an important step toward a more inclusive future, shining a light on everyone who has spent far too long hiding in Hollywood's shadow.