'Amsterdam' Director David O. Russell Has a Long History of Abuse — So Why Do A-List Actors Continue to Work With Him?

david o russell trans niece
credit: David Shankbone/Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault, verbal assault, and molestation

For a long time, one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets was who among the most powerful were also the most abusive. But in recent years, particularly since the Me Too movement, these secrets are being exposed, leaving “cancel culture” to do its job and take power away from some of these monsters.

We’ve watched this kind of takedown happen again and again. Still, for every well-known star that is “canceled”, it seems like three more are still flying under the radar, getting away with toxic behaviors.

These predators are everywhere in Hollywood, but director David O. Russell is a unique outlier. Because even though his misconduct is widely known, he’s never been held accountable. And he’s never shown any signs of remorse.

In fact, for some reason, despite openly admitting to sexually assaulting his trans niece and physically and verbally assaulting actors on set, Russell continues to have a prominent place in the industry. Even worse, A-list celebrities are as eager as ever to work with him.

The reason that all of Russell’s past behavior is coming back into the light is due to the recent premiere of his latest movie, Amsterdam. The film’s cast is packed with some of the biggest names in entertainment including Taylor Swift, Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldaña, Anya Taylor-Joy, and more.

At the premiere of the film, Drake, one of the film’s executive producers, introduced Russell with words of praise. He said,

“This is just a real moment. So I am here to introduce the extremely talented, very legendary, one of the most handsome men in Hollywood. He goes by the name of David O. Russell.”

Cue the applause and adoration.

Will someone please make it make sense?

Although Russell has a long history of sexual, verbal, and physical assault, the most shocking — and disgusting —  allegation against the director comes from his own niece, who issued a police report back in January of 2012 after Russell groped her breasts and touched her inappropriately during a workout in December of 2011.

In the police report, then-19-year-old Nicole Peloquin, who is transgender, said Russell was instructing her in an ab workout when he put his hands on her lower stomach, just above her genitals. He then asked her about her transition and she explained her hormone therapy treatment to increase her breast size, at which point Russell slid his hand up her shirt and each of her breasts. In the police report, Peloquin said she was very uncomfortable but didn’t tell him to stop. After her uncle’s assault, she says she left the workout.

Peloquin later told her mother (Russell’s sister) what had happened. When her mother approached Russell, he denied that anything happened. However, when questioned by police, Russell admitted to touching his niece’s breasts but told a very different story (spoiler: a victim-blaming story).

He told the police that Peloquin was “acting very provocative towards him” and that, when he was assisting her with her ab exercises, he asked if she was “uncomfortable in any way,” to which she said she was not. He then said that Peloquin brought up the subject of her breasts because “one was bigger than the other” and allowed Russell to touch them to feel the difference. Then, according to Russell, his niece made him “pinky promise” not to tell anyone about what had happened. In his recount to the police, Russell said that Peloquin was “always causing drama since the transgender transformation and has become very provocative and seductive”.

After the report was made public, Russell’s spokesperson issued a statement saying the director “emphatically denies any wrongdoing.”

Um, how is it not wrong to sexually assault your niece?

And it’s not like this incident is a secret to the industry. After Sony was hacked in 2014, an email from the co-president of productions at Columbia Pictures, Michael De Luca was leaked in which he told Sony’s co-chairman, Amy Pascal,

“David’s a loon, talented but geeze … Plus, remember when he got in trouble for feeling up his transgender niece’s boobs?”

This incident — which Russell openly admitted to — should be enough for everyone in Hollywood to want to distance themselves from the director. And given the many additional stories of abusive behavior, it’s a wonder why the man is not in jail. Because, unfortunately, this is far from the only horrible thing Russell has done.

Another part of the Sony hack included an email from journalist Jonathan Alter to Sony’s CEO, Michael Lynton discussing the director’s 2013 movie American Hustle. In it, Alter said,

“[Russell’s] abuse and lunatic behavior are extreme even by Hollywood standards.”

This was subsequently confirmed when Amy Adams, one of the stars of the movie, said in an interview with GQ that the director made her cry every day on set. She told the magazine,

“He was hard on me, that’s for sure. It was a lot. I was really just devastated on set.”

Then, of course, there’s the 2004 incident in which, during the filming of I Heart Huckabees, David O. Russell threw a hissyfit, threw things off a desk, and called actress Lily Tomlin a b*tch and a c**t on set. There’s even video footage of it (skip to the 1:14 mark below).

And prior to that, in 2000, George Clooney reportedly told Playboy that working with Russell on the 1999 movie Three Kings was “truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.” The two allegedly ended up in a physical, violent fight when Clooney came to the defense of an extra that Russell had walked up to, grabbed, pushed to the ground, and kicked while verbally berating him.

Oh, but there’s more!

In a 2021 interview with Variety, writer Annie Mumolo vaguely described her experience working with Russell on the 2015 movie, Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. She said,

“The Joy movie was a very heartbreaking experience for me … I was asked to do things that were against my morality, and it was very difficult. When I didn’t feel comfortable doing those things that were against my values, I was lambasted … I was living in fear.”

She continued,

“It’s sort of a testament to the power of how in show business, people have a tremendous amount of power and what they can do with it and how they wield that power. Sometimes, the people who have so much power are the people who shouldn’t, and in the normal world they wouldn’t have that much power they’re being given.”

Later in the interview, she added,

“I had many people approaching me at the time to come out and say things or talk about it. But, then it was, ‘oh no, you can’t because you won’t get hired. You might not get hired again because you’ll be perceived as being difficult.’ I just kind of had to swallow it.”

It’s safe to say at this point that Russell’s toxic, abusive behavior is well-known throughout Hollywood. And still, celebrities seem to line up to work with him.

Apparently, the pain he has caused so many — even to members of his own family — isn’t enough to deter people in the entertainment industry from singing his praises and starring in his films. It doesn’t matter how well-received critics say his movies are, no one should carry this kind of power.

It’s disgusting. There’s just no other way to say it.


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Ashley Ziegler
Aside from being a writer, Ashley is a mom of two girls and a wife to a passionate public school administrator. When she does have free time (cue laughter from working moms everywhere) she loves going to hot yoga classes, watching anything on Netflix that isn't a cartoon, and weaving her way through every aisle of Target while listening to one of her favorite podcasts.