Sam Levinson Sparks Backlash for Production and Script on HBO Series “The Idol”

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Sam Levinson attends HBO's "Euphoria" Season 2 Photo Call at Goya Studios on January 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Screenwriter and director Sam Levinson rose to prominence for his work on HBO’s acclaimed yet controversial Euphoria, which stars actors Zendaya, Jacob Elordi, Sydney Sweeney, Alexa Demie, Hunter Schafer, Barbie Ferreira and more. The show follows Rue (Zendaya) navigating her opioid addiction, while her friends and classmates navigate their own body image and sexuality issues. The show was initially praised for its raw portrayal of drug addiction, as Levinson himself has been vocal about his own history of addiction.Now, he faces criticism over his latest project, The Idol, also with HBO.

When the second season of Euphoria dropped in 2022, some viewers changed their tune. At the end of the season, Barbie Ferreira, who played Kat Hernandez, announced an abrupt exit from the show following rumors of a disagreement with Levinson over his handling of her character’s story arc. Season two also featured more graphic nude scenes than season one, and Sydney Sweeney, who plays Cassie Howard in the show, spoke up about it an interview about how she fought to get several nude scenes cut from the original script, as she did not think they were all “necessary.”

Sweeney’s comments regarding the scenes and the online harassment she’d received for her role in Euphoria attracted a lot of commentary. Sweeney eventually clarified her comments to Teen Vogue, saying “It was more how respectful Sam is and how incredible of a director he is, that he would never make me do something I didn’t feel comfortable with.”

Despite Sweeney’s clarification of the situation, viewers still felt that Levinson crossed an ethical line with Cassie’s story line in season two of the show. This criticism in mind, viewers were disappointed, but not entirely shocked, by today’s revelations regarding The Idol. Thirteen crew members spoke to Rolling Stone about the reasons why the much anticipated project was delayed. The show is set to star actress Lily Rose Depp and The Weeknd, and will follow Depp’s character Jocelyn’s journey to pop stardom with the help of a contemporary wellness cult leader (The Weeknd).

The crew members confirmed that The Idol was intended to be a more woman-led project at its inception, but director Amy Seimetz (known for The Girlfriend Experience) exited the project when the script was 80 percent finished. Seimetz was ultimately replaced by Levinson. The Weeknd is additionally coming under fire for the creative choices, as he was credited as a co-creator alongside Levinson. Twitter is calling out Levinson for glorifying “torture porn”.

Others felt that creative opinions aside, the whole debacle was a poor investment on HBO’s part.


Others felt that the constant platform given to Levinson as a director paves the way towards a dangerous future for women in film, after years of working towards equality. One Twitter user commented that the new plot of The Idol was reminiscent of male photographers who only shoot nude models for what they claim are artistic purposes.

Many also criticized Levinson’s characterization of the Weeknd’s character, which falls back on a dangerous stereotype for Black men.

The news is making viewers take a closer look at the media they consume, and recognize the fine line between subversive art and an abuse of power.


Some are even encouraging people to boycott the series when it eventually premieres.

The Idol is currently loosely slated for a June 2023 release date on HBO.

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