The musician FKA twigs (real name Tahliah Debrett Barnett) is suing the actor Shia LaBeouf for allegedly subjecting her to physical, emotional and mental abuse during a romantic relationship.
In an interview with the New York Times, Barnett, 32, characterised her experience with LaBeouf as “the worst thing I’ve ever been through in the whole of my life” and said she wanted to raise awareness of “the tactics that abusers use to control you and take away your agency”.
Responding to detailed allegations about his conduct, LaBeouf told the Times that “many of these allegations are not true” but that he owed Barnett and Karolyn Pho, another woman whose claims feature in the lawsuit, “the opportunity to air their statements publicly and [for me to] accept accountability for those things I have done”.
He said: “I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behaviour made them feel. I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalisations. I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I’m ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say.”
The lawsuit states that in February 2019 Barnett was a passenger in a vehicle that LaBeouf was driving recklessly, and that he removed his seatbelt and threatened to crash unless she said she loved him. The pair had taken a trip to the desert outside Los Angeles, during which, Barnett alleged, LaBeouf once woke her up in the middle of the night by choking her.
Barnett said that after she begged to be let out, LaBeouf pulled over at a petrol station and she removed her luggage. He allegedly followed and assaulted her, throwing her against the car and screaming in her face.
Barnett said nobody helped her and that a colleague later dismissed her allegations. She said she had not gone to the police at first out of concern that LaBeouf’s career would be harmed, and later because she thought she would not be taken seriously.
“I just thought to myself, ‘No one is ever going to believe me,’” she told the Times. “I’m unconventional. And I’m a person of colour who is a female.”
Stylist Karolyn Pho told the New York Times that LaBeouf had also abused her during the course of a romantic relationship. Some of her experiences also appear in Barnett’s lawsuit, including an allegation that he pinned her to a bed while he was drunk and head-butted her, leaving her bleeding.
The lawsuit states that Barnett met LaBeouf in 2018 when she was cast in his film Honey Boy and that their relationship began after filming concluded. She and Pho claimed that LaBeouf did not like them to speak to or look at male waiters.
Barnett said LaBeouf harangued and criticised her as he enforced rules about how many times a day she should kiss and touch him, and that he isolated her from her peers in London. She said he kept a gun by the bed and insisted that she sleep naked. She said she was scared to use the bathroom at night in case he mistook her for an intruder and shot her. The lawsuit states that LaBeouf knowingly infected Barnett with a sexually transmitted disease.
Barnett told the Times that escaping LaBeouf became “both difficult and dangerous”. In spring 2019, he prevented her from leaving, “violently grabbed” her, picked her up, locked her in a room and yelled at her.
“The whole time I was with him, I could have bought myself a business-flight plane ticket back to my four-storey townhouse in Hackney,” she said. “He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible.”
Barnett said she intended to donate any monetary damages to domestic violence charities. “It was actually very expensive, and a massive undertaking of time and resources, to get out.”
In 2015, LaBeouf was filmed arguing with his then girlfriend, the actor Mia Goth, telling her: “This is the kind of thing that makes a person abusive.” He later told the strangers who had been filming him: “If I’d stayed there, I would’ve killed her.”
He told the Times he was committed to recovering from alcoholism and the effects of PTSD. “I will forever be sorry to the people that I may have harmed along the way.”
Barnett released her second album as FKA twigs, Magdalene, in 2019.