Jonathan Majors And America's Blind Obsession With Superstardom
Jonathan Majors, shown here at a Los Angeles premiere of "The Harder They Fall" on Oct. 13, 2021, denies the allegations of domestic assault.
“Nah. Please, say it ain’t so.”
That was my visceral response ― and that of many people I know ― when news dropped Saturday evening of Jonathan Majors’ arrest on assaultchargesin New York City. Celebrity abuse allegations are far more common than they should be but… not this brother! Cue the Florida Evans “Damn, damn, damn!”
Here’s what we know: Police responded to a 911 call from an apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood about 11 a.m. Majors and the alleged victim, believed to be his girlfriend, were reportedly involved in a domestic dispute, apparently stemming from Majors receiving texts from another woman. Police said they found minor injuries to the woman’s head and neck, and Majors surrendered to police without incident. He was released with a limited order of protection granted for the woman.
Majors’ representative on Saturday categorically denied that he assaulted anyone. On Sunday, his lawyer Priya Chaudhry wrote in a statement that Majors was the “victim of an altercation with a woman he knows.” Chaudhry said that the (still unnamed) victim recanted her accusation and that video evidence and witness accounts will clear her client.
Majors was charged with three counts of assault in the third degree, aggravated harassment in the second degree, three counts of attempted assault in the third degree and harassment in the second degree, according to People magazine. He’s scheduled to be in court May 8.
The issue still demands that we wait for more information before standing firmly intransigent on the side of Majors or the woman. But c’mon… that’s not what we do: In just 24 hours, the whole affair became a case study in the collision of domestic abuse dynamics, racism, the patriarchy, social media politics (including crass memes), miscegenation, mental health, celebrity worship and probably the reason your Aunt Nessa keeps making that goddamn potato salad for Christmas. This thing has “Netflix documentary” written all over it.
First, there’s the public perception of Majors himself: An incipient Hollywood legend by the estimation of many, he has two number one films in theaters as I type and has gone from indie darling to bona fide Hollywood heartthrob, magazine covers and all, in just the last few months. His talent and the warmth he exudes in interviews and photos have made him someone everyone wants to see win.
As such, Majors has certainly benefited from blind celebrity fealty: Many automatically jumped to his defense with minimal information, only the belief that some woman is simply trying to capitalize on his meteoric rise. That sentiment became harder to countenance thanks to two viral tweets: One, posted from a director named A.B. Allen in February, says that he’s been driven “insane” by the positive attention a “relatively new” actor is receiving. When asked about the tweet following Majors’ arrest, Allen seemed to confirm the tweet was about him. Allen also suggested that revealing what they know would expose Majors’ alleged victims without their consent.
Now we know who this tweet was about https://t.co/LS8pzU0K6Opic.twitter.com/1Cn1Moy6m0
— chateau bunny ❄️ (@cocainecross) March 25, 2023
The second is from Tim Nicolai, a New York-based theater actor and director, who called Majors a “sociopath and abuser.” Nicolai wrote that he personally knows several victims of Majors’ from his time at Yale School of Drama but would also never reveal their identities without their consent.
Allen and Nicolai have since locked their Twitter accounts, presumably because they’ve been attacked by Majors’ defenders. I still have access to Nicolai’s account, and he caught hell from a lot of Black people who simply don’t want to see a white man besmirch a successful Black man (Allen appears to be Black). The “Why didn’t the victims come forward before?” query pervasive in both their accounts demonstrates, unsurprisingly, how we collectively misunderstand the dynamics of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
A 2010 study analyzing a decade of reported sexual assault cases suggests that 2% to 10% of allegations are untrue, and there are manifold analyses that explain why victims often don’t come forward, ranging from personal shame to having to endure the public’s disbelief. Look no further than how long R. Kelly was able to operate before he was finally caged.
However, the racial element that runs through the sinews of the whole incident screams much louder than folks’ willingness to understand assault dynamics. For many Black folks, the timing couldn’t be more suspect: a successful Black man at his apex getting taken down a peg. People wonder if Marvel Studios might drop Majors, who portrays the villainous Kang the Conqueror, from upcoming films considering that Ezra Miller, who is white, went on such a tour of unbridled fuckery that even the normally neutral Issa Rae spoke on it, yet DC Studios is still rocking with them.
By all accounts, Majors’ girlfriend is a white woman, which opened another door of scrutiny: Some want to see this as just another in numerous historical examples of a white woman taking down a Black man with her lies. Would Majors have been arrested at all if his accuser were a Black woman? Should Majors, being a prominent and rich Black celebrity, be partnered with a white woman at all? (The latter is a bit unfair considering that, if Majors is truly an abuser, the race of his partner probably matters little.)
The incident puts his nascent role as the paragon of “sensitive masculinity” in a different context. His definition of masculinity to NPR is on point, but if he did attack his girlfriend and it’s proved to be part of a trend of behavior (as it often is), dude has some Jussie Smollett-caliber acting going on and would likely cause folks to distrust other Black male celebrities propagating the same message.
Speaking of Smollett, the flipside is an inconvenient truth for many: People lie every day ― even so-called victims. Majors’ celebrity might open him up to a different caliber of liars, but Smollett taught us that we should approach all would-be victims with compassion and then assess the situation. If it comes out that his accuser fabricated the whole thing, she’ll have set back race relations and the credibility of other victims of domestic violence.
The other inconvenient truth: Her alleged recantation doesn’t mean that the violence didn’t happen. Many will never be convinced that she wasn’t paid hush money considering Majors’ backing ― especially the fact that Marvel has several movies and billions of box office dollars riding on the shoulders of his character. Even if she’s lying about this incident, it also doesn’t mean Majors never abused her. The incident has many shades of the divisive Johnny Depp/Amber Heard case.
As of press time, the only professional loss we’ve seen Majors endure is the pulling of his new U.S. Army “Be all you can be” ad, which is ironic considering the Army’s track record of being light on domestic violence among its ranks. Majors was surely already paid for the ad, but if this gets worse for him, his pockets will certainly be taxed. You’d have to lock me in a dark box and bury it to shut me up if someone’s false accusation threatened both my freedom and my bag.
But I’m assuming Majors is in a legal situation where he can’t just hop on Twitter or conduct an interview to speak his truth. Apparently video evidence notwithstanding, my guess is we’ll never know exactly what happened between Majors and his accuser ― I get the feeling this will all be shut down with nondisclosure agreements and money.
Problem is, it’s what we don’t know that’s guiding the current narrative. The truth can be a fickle beast, but it’s one often obfuscated by emotion and the demand for a pound of flesh. Everyone banging on their phones to post on social media their version of the “truth” needs to take a beat and wait to see what happens next.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s an issue that will likely haunt Majors for the remainder of his career. If the woman’s accusations are true, then surely the inflicted damage will continue to haunt her days. It will hang over every relationship she has moving forward like a cloud. We may never know what happened in the back of that cab, on that night, between those two, but no matter the outcome, we may have to throw an asterisk over a man who was a pure role model for Black boys just a few days ago, and that’s the biggest shame here.