The actor Jared Leto and the fashion photographer Terry Richardson have had a robust recent history together: Leto, nominated for an Academy Award tonight for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club," posed nude for Richardson, and the pair are social acquaintances as well. Richardson even hung out with Leto and his fellow nominee Lupita Nyong'o, documenting the whole thing on his blog.
The pair's bromance is only beginning: Leto is planning to bring Richardson as his date to the Academy Awards tonight, Salon has learned. Given the many allegations of sexual assault lodged against Richardson, this is typical of Leto's recent spin in the spotlight -- either an attempt to court controversy or, more likely, simple blitheness. "Dallas Buyers Club" is, or markets itself to moviegoers and the awards body that nominated it for best picture, a story about fighting back against the systemic advantages that allow straight men enjoy. Richardson, perpetually a mute and smiling figure in the corner of his own photographs, is a potent symbol of those advantages.
Before addressing the matter of Richardson himself, consider Leto's recent history on his own: the actor, who plays a transwoman in "Dallas Buyers Club," gave a Golden Globe speech in which he praised his own "tiny little Brazilian bubble butt" as a means of talking about what it was like to play his character. The movie was recast, in retrospect, as about just how cute and sexy Leto, himself, was. The idea that there were real trans people out there whose stories weren't jokes went out the window. Leto worked to redeem himself with a Screen Actors Guild Award speech in which he spoke about AIDS, but Oscar fans could well have gone into today wondering just where Leto's heart and mind were.
The Richardson date is just the latest example. Leto's loyalty to the photographer is proof, perhaps, he's a great friend, but this will give pause both to those who doubt Leto's own seriousness as a person who took on a role as an oppressed sexual minority and those who've been watching the Oscar-season war over Woody Allen queasily. Even in Allen's absence, questions of guilt and the degree to which society ought to punish a person against whom allegations have been lodged will haunt the red-carpet -- and worst of all, as Richardson's not a nominee, it's utterly unnecessary!
I have no desire to litigate the allegations against Terry Richardson, but the ease with which Richardson moves in Hollywood circles, with zero interrogation of what it means to work with him or support him, has always been dispiriting. That he is to float down the red carpet of Hollywood's biggest night on the arm of a nominee who played a woman victimized for her sexuality is further proof, if we needed it, that Leto is deeply unserious about the role for which he's likely about to win an Oscar. There's always next year, at least.