Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington dressed in 1930s-era costumes, standing together looking haggard in a scene from Amsterdam.

‘Amsterdam’ Trailer Raises the Question Yet Again: Why Are People Still Working With David O. Russell?

The trailer for David O. Russell’s latest star-studded movie Amsterdam dropped Wednesday, and the cast is stacked. It’s got Margot Robbie, Christian Bale, and John David Washington at its core, with a supporting cast that includes Mike Myers, Anya Taylor-Joy, Robert De Niro, Timothy Olyphant, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Michael Shannon, Chris Rock, and Taylor Swift, just to name a few.

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That sure is a lot of top-tier talent willing to work with David O. Russell, a man who has a long history of abusive on-set behavior, both emotional and allegedly physical. The list of his workplace transgressions—be they alleged, admitted, or caught on camera—is honestly too long to run through yet again. (We did this just last year in response to casting announcements for this very film.) Russell is possibly better known for his horrid workplace behavior than he is for his actual films at this point. And away from work, he was also accused of sexual assault more than a decade ago, when he admitted to groping his 19-year-old transgender niece.

Obviously, these actors that have chosen to work with Russell are free to do so. Whether it’s because his films still have a degree of awards-season cachet or because some actors, just like Russell, thrive artistically on chaos, no matter how toxic, a bunch of A-list actors have made the decision to gamble on a potentially abusive workplace environment.

Except, as we know, this goes beyond a personal choice for these individual actors. For one, lending their celebrity cred to his work is an endorsement, by way of tacit acceptance, of the way he leads a film set. But also, his mistreatment of actors affects more than just those actors. In the infamous video of his violent meltdown on the set of I Heart Huckabees, his anger is directed at actress Lily Tomlin, at whom he’s screaming profanities, calling her a bitch and a c*nt.

But you can also see a crew member cowering in a corner, being struck by objects as Russell throws things around the room. Tomlin has said that she and Russell “made up” after that fight, but what about everyone else subjected to that aggression—everyone below the line who doesn’t get to pick and choose projects the way Tomlin can and who we can presume definitely don’t get the courtesy of “making up”? When he can continue to attract a dozen A-list actors for a film, the message being sent is that Russell’s behavior is not just tolerable, but celebrated.

I really like this quote from Amy Adams from an interview with British GQ, when she was asked if it was true that Russell frequently made her cry on the set of American Hustle and responded with raw empathy:

He did… I was really just devastated on set. I mean, not every day, but most. Jennifer [Lawrence] doesn’t take any of it on. She’s Teflon. And I am not Teflon. But I also don’t like to see other people treated badly.. It’s not ok with me. Life to me is more important than movies. It really taught me how to separate work and home. Because I was like, I cannot bring this experience home with me to my daughter.

Anyway, you can find the trailer for Amsterdam over on YouTube if you so wish. It does look fun. It does not look worth celebrating toxic and allegedly violent workplace behavior, nor boosting an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. It feels like that really shouldn’t have to be said anymore, but here we are.

(featured image: screencap)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.