During the Sunday, February 9 Academy Awards broadcast, actors Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen presented the award for best Live Action Short Film.
During the presentation, LaBeouf appeared to smile and lightly laugh several times. This didn’t sit well with some, who took to social media following the presentation in order to voice their displeasure with what they believed was mockery at Gottsagen’s expense.
Gottsagen, 34, has Down syndrome.
Is it just me or did Shia Labeouf seem super annoyed to be sharing that announcement? Not cool Shia…#Oscars
We gonna talk about #shialabeouf being a dick to that kid with Down syndrome? Dude straight stole that kids moment #Oscars2020. Let him have his moment.
I came to Twitter just to tweet that it was not cool that he snickered when the other person struggled. VERY not cool.
Just as quickly as LaBeouf’s critics sent out their tweets, other users jumped in to defend the actor:
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. Direct your misguided judgement somewhere else.
As a mom of a young man with Down Syndrome, it is refreshing to see two friends present together without the pandering and handholding that often accompanies such a relationship. Shia treated Zack like an equal, not like a baby. That’s a healthy relationship. #TheOscars
Even LaBeouf’s “Honey Boy” director, Alma Har’el, jumped into the fray, noting that the actor said he would only present at the ceremony if Gottsagen could be up there with him.
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.
For some context, during the filming of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in the summer of 2017, LaBeouf was arrested and charged with “obstruction, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness,” reports CNN.
Co-start Zack Gottsagen, with whom LaBeouf formed a friendship, reportedly helped him in his recovery.
During an October 2019 interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Neman, LaBeouf said that during filming after his arrest, Gottsagen “nursed me back, on a boat, during a scene where we’re talking about, like, the painful past.”
Speaking with Newman, Gottsagen said he told LaBeouf that he had “one chance to prove to himself: never, never, never do this kind of stuff again.”
LaBeouf explained to Newman that his friendship with Gottsagen, and that moment, had a major impact on his life.
The actor made a similar statement during a lengthy interview with Esquire in 2018:
To hear him say that he was disappointed in me probably changed the course of my life. … He keeps it one thousand with you, and that sh*t doesn’t even make sense to him. Zack can’t not shoot straight, and bless him for it, [because] in that moment, I needed a straight shooter who I couldn’t argue with.
Following the Oscars presentation, the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash, Gottsagen’s mother Shelly spoke out, telling TooFab:
I would hate to see any misconception out there. I mean, you know, Shia is just wonderful, you know, we really love him. If anything, I think they were grinning because it was hard to get the envelope open.
Gottsagen’s mother added that the “respect that Shia and Zack have for each other is beautiful.”
Their friendship is really, really beautiful. And, you know, it just, it upset me when I thought that somebody was thinking that Shia could have ever had a kind of negative attitude [because] he’s been nothing, nothing, nothing but supportive.
“They’re very tight. They love each other, really encourage each other,” she continued. Gottsagen’s mother also noted that LaBeouf is “very supportive of Zack as an actor.”