In December 2017, The Daily Beast reported on a string of social media posts accusing screenwriter Max Landis of sexual misconduct. The posts were not firsthand accusations, but rather articulations of an “open secret”; warnings that, in the era of #MeToo, Landis should probably be on high alert.
Landis’s first and arguably last critical success was Chronicle, a 2012 experimental superhero origin film with an 85 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Landis’s career seemingly nosedived from there. As The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern summarized, “He’s been attached to a string of misfires, from his directorial debut Me Him Her to the forgettable flicks American Ultra, Mr. Right, and Victor Frankenstein.” But opportunities continued to arise, including 2017’s Bright, the infamous $90 million Will Smith orc shitshow. You may also remember Landis from the 150-page “living document” he created in 2017, dedicated to proving that pop star Carly Rae Jepsen’s “songs are connected.”
While it’s hardly shocking to watch a man fail up in the entertainment industry, in Landis’s case there is an actual explanation. He is the son of legendary filmmaker John Landis, the director of National Lampoon’s Animal House and Coming to America. The younger Landis’s Hollywood royalty status was not lost on those accusing him of a history of abusive behavior. In November 2017, musician and magazine editor Allie Goertz tweeted, “I can’t imagine who is more scared in a post-Weinstein world than a famous director’s son.”
Bright’s premiere triggered a number of tweets calling out the screenwriter. Kicking off one thread, Corporate creator Jake Weisman wrote, “Definitely watch that big Netflix movie coming out, written by that fucking psychopath who is one of the worst people alive.” Comic and writer Mike Drucker responded, “Jake, I have exactly entirely 100% no idea of whom you’re talking about but I just hope he doesn’t have a powerful father in Hollywood who’s covered up for the fucked up shit he’s done.” Sketch comedian and comedy writer Siobhan Thompson rounded out the conversation, adding, “I don’t know who you mean but if that’s true I bet I have SEVERAL friends who have been sexually assaulted by him.”
Anna Akana, an actress who previously worked with Landis on a YouTube video he wrote and directed, responded directly to Netflix’s promotional tweet for the Will Smith-helmed blockbuster: “Written by a psychopath who sexually abused and assaults women, right? Cool.” Video game developer Zoe Quinn penned a lengthy thread, beginning, “Sometimes men who commit sexual assault are talented screenwriters and their work comes with baggage. Other times, they’re Max Landis.” Quinn continued, “I’ve been holding in this shit for years as more friends have accrued ‘max landis stories’ bc it wasn’t my place and him & his dad are powerful figures so naturally going against that is terrifying for survivors so I’m SO glad people are finding out what a piece of shit he is.”
Pajiba titled their own roundup of these mostly secondhand allegations “This is not the Max Landis exposé you’re looking for.”
“It’s easy to prove that Max Landis is a shithead,” Pajiba’s Tori Preston reported. “He’s done all the legwork himself. Perhaps the most damning aspect of this story so far is the fact that Max has gone silent on social media since the rumors started ramping up. Which, as illustrated above, is not like him. But determining if he’s more than a semi-famous run-of-the-mill asshole is harder. I spoke with a lot of people who know him. I heard claims that they knew other women who were allegedly assaulted by Landis. I heard about behavior ranging from alleged public groping to (alleged) true horror stories, and even though they were off the record, the stories shared a lot of similarities. But the women in question often weren’t ready to talk to me directly — and they certainly weren’t ready to share their pain with the internet masses.”
As described, Landis’s response to the gathering storm against him was to take a break from Twitter, a medium that he previously used to criticize female critics and lecture other social media users on #yesallwomen and sexual assault. A couple of months ago, a fan wrote in Reddit’s r/MaxLandis wondering what the writer was up to. “He hasn't uploaded anything on YouTube his twitter hasn’t been updated since December last year,” they noted. “Is he going to bounce back from the #metoo situation? or has he just gone off the grid, never to write again?” Last week, when two new Max Landis projects were announced in quick succession, we got an answer.
According to Jan. 30 reports, Chloe Grace Moretz is set to star in the upcoming Shadow in the Cloud, penned by Max Landis and with Roseanne Liang directing. Two days later, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Idris Elba is in negotiations for the sci-fi thriller Deeper, also written by Landis.
According to Deadline’s synopsis of Shadow in the Cloud, “Moretz will play a captain carrying top secret documents aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress who must contend with an evil presence, an oncoming Japanese ambush and a leery, all-male crew.” On Twitter, writer Rachel Kiley pointed out, “Hey remember when Max Landis was accused of sexual assault by multiple women and just disappeared from twitter in hopes everyone would forget and ignore it and it wouldn’t hurt his career and it actually worked?” Later she added, “Super sick of his bullshit, but even more so when it’s masquerading as feminism. and really pissed i can’t support a movie with a female director and lead because his name is on it.”
A longer reported piece on the sexual assault allegations against Landis never came to fruition, but other examples of the screenwriter’s shitty behavior abound. In a 2013 blog interview that’s since been taken down, Landis spoke candidly about life, love, and giving an ex-girlfriend body dysmorphia.
“No chick worth hooking up with is going to throw it at you because it means they’re crazy,” he opined at one point, later continuing, “I’m a tiny, tiny bit successful, but in the scale of things you’re gonna fuck me for no reason? i don’t see it. i’m not on that level. i’m not a rockstar – i’m not in a band, you’re not going to be in my video. the only thing you could get from fucking me is getting to fuck me, and if so, lucky you.”
In the same interview, Landis explained that, “I never really want a girlfriend because i’m so scared and have done so many fucked up things.” Asked to elaborate, he responded, “the most fucked up thing was that i cheated on a girl who i also gave a crippling social anxiety, self-loathing, body dismorphia, eating disorder to. i mean you can’t really give someone any of these things, but the seeds of these things were there inside of her. we were in such a sort of unfair, fucked up relationship – not the kind where there’s a lot of yelling and screaming – the actual relationship was very nice and loving, but i was so fickle about her body. i’m not shy, i would just blurt out shit all the time. she ended up completely changing how she dressed and how she looked for me.”
In another choice quote, Landis admitted, “I think people perceive me as a very sexual person – i flirt a lot, even with guys. my personality is very flirtatious and coy. there’s a lot of eye contact and touching. even if you’re not down i’ll come at you like jack sparrow.”
Landis has also been taken to task for calling Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Rey a “Mary Sue” and the “worst fucking Star Wars main character to date.” In 2016, he criticized Arrival, only to unleash a lengthy rant (“this is actual pathetic journalism”) when Vanity Fair covered his critiques in an unflattering article. All in all, these stories paint a picture of an incendiary, petulant man who refuses to take criticism. In the words of Landis himself, pre-Twitter hiatus, “Every day on here I deal with dudes who are clearly sexist screaming about how they’re not sexist.”
Even as he enters the initial stages of his quite possibly triumphant comeback, Landis’s outbursts and admissions continue to speak for themselves. Why is the onus on accusers to go on the record, rather than on collaborators and consumers to take him at his word?