The glorification of sexual assault

Unveiling Sam Levinson’s questionable directing choices


Cheyenne Meeks

Sam Levinson’s forthcoming HBO show, “The Idol,” has raised concern among expectant viewers for including superfluous sexually explicit content and aestheticizing sensitive topics.

Cheyenne Meeks, Arts and entertainment editor

The official Instagram for “The Idol” billed Levinson as one of the “sick and twisted minds” behind “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood.” This statement turned out to be truer than “expected.

Sam Levinson hit the jackpot with his successful teen drama, “Euphoria,” bringing him and the show’s cast into the limelight of the film world. However, his highly anticipated HBO series, “The Idol,” has already generated an outcry from audiences and critics even without an initial release. 

“The Idol,” which features Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Lily-Rose Depp and Jennie Kim, centers around Jocelyn, an aspiring pop idol, as she navigates the sordid netherworld of the music industry. Jocelyn attempts to claim her status as the sexiest pop star in America and subsequently begins a complicated relationship with Tedros, falling victim to his secret cult.

The show is essentially a crazier and more risqué version of “Euphoria,” leaving audiences uncertain as to how it will play out.

The cohesivity of “The Idol” first exhibited issues when the director Amy Seimetz suddenly left the partially-completed show due to a change in creative directions. Reports at the time claimed that Tesfaye felt the show needed an overhaul because it was leaning too much towards the “female perspective.” 

Following Seimetiz’s departure, Levinson stepped up to take her role in the exigencies of wrapping up production, as the show had to be completely reshot. His changes included amplifying the nudity, gutting the cast and rewriting the storyline, with crew members describing the new version as “twisted torture porn” and the “rape fantasy of a toxic man” rather than a feminist look on how the entertainment industry takes advantage of women.

Junior Rupika Jai Ganesh has watched the teaser trailers for the series and is eager for its release. Yet, she expressed disappointment over these new developments and connects them to similar patterns of misrepresenting the female experience in other films.

“It’s clear that Sam Levinson’s new version of ‘The Idol’ is based upon his false perception of women. From what I’ve seen, Levinson portrays Lily-Rose Depp’s character as a fame-obsessed girl who would submit to anything in order to make it in Hollywood. I think this is an extremely gross representation of women. It’s known that in most workplaces, women are often belittled and discriminated against, so for Sam Levinson to make such a sexualized, one-dimensional female character is just furthering the mistreatment of women,” Ganesh shared.

For Sam Levinson to make such a sexualized, one-dimensional female character is just furthering the mistreatment of women.”

— Junior Rupika Jai Ganesh

“And many movies and TV shows throughout the years have constantly degraded women,” Ganesh continues. “For example, the Pixie Girl Trope molds the female character into a colorful, whimsical girl who fits the needs of the man. In a lot of media, the female characters exist to pander to the male characters and the male audience and to provide them the satisfaction they don’t receive in real life.”

A paradigm of Levinson’s creative ventures in film projects, “emotional realism” pushes the boundaries of reality with a dreamy cinematic style that appeals to the audience’s visual and auditory senses. But the issues erupted when he continuously employed this method to aestheticize sexual violence and brusque nudity. 

In one highly disturbing draft episode, Tesfaye physically assaults Depp’s character and she smiles and “asks for more,” giving him an erection. Another proposed scene was for Depp to carry an egg in her private area and if she dropped or cracked it, Tesfaye’s character wouldn’t sexually assault her. This scene was only scrapped because there were logistical issues with Depp inserting the egg. 

Upon hearing this proposed scene, Ganesh was horrified by Levinson’s vision in filming the show, “This makes me feel disgusted. It’s so violent and brutal for no reason. Levinson may have a social message behind the show, however, glorifying sexual violence is never the right way to execute any message. Levinson is talented, but his direction with this show is unnecessarily violent and sexual. To portray assault as something arousing and gratifying is vile.”

And this isn’t the first time one of Levinson’s films has been the center of controversy. In the show “Euphoria,” actress Sydney Sweeney said in an interview that she had opposed some of the nude scenes that Levinson originally scripted for her. And a second actress, Minka Kelly, revealed that she too had objected to being filmed suggestively. Off set, allegations were made about toxic set conditions, absurd work hours and feudals with cast members. 

Senior Khushi Mehta is a big fan of “Euphoria” and its aesthetic, but has concerns over the substance of the show. 

“While I understand that the show is trying to shed light on the effects of substance use and identity issues, Euphoria comes close to romanticizing self-destructive and unsafe behaviors. The problems with the show stem from how it navigates the line between being brutally honest and simply glorifying dangerous situations surrounding abuse. Yes, it is obvious that these difficult topics are negative, but the show sometimes shied away from acknowledging that fact to further its plot or play into the ‘aesthetic’,” Mehta shared

Despite readily accepting the suggestions put out by his female cast members, his inclusion of gratuitous nudity in a show about teenagers in the first place raises concern among watchers.

Although Sam Levinson has a keen eye for aesthetic cinematography and musical storytelling, his filmmaking choices are undoubtedly controversial and should not glorify such graphic content. As long as audiences embrace his content, Levinson will continue to be backed by the film industry and get away with his controversial ideas.