Well, we all knew it was only a matter of time. Earlier this morning The Daily Beast posted the Max Landis exposé we’ve all been waiting for since late 2017, when the first comments on his behavior hit Twitter (not to mention the second wave of online accusations that rose last week). In their report, eight women detail their experiences with Max — experiences that are unquestionably both emotionally and sexually abusive. The accounts span over a decade, from Max’s days as a student in Miami to his most recent relationships. There are accounts of on-set harassment, as well as emotional manipulation, isolation, gaslighting, physical and sexual assault, and yes — rape. And look, I’m not going to detail the whole thing here. Please, go to The Daily Beast and read it all for yourself. Some of it will be familiar, such as the account Colour Society Reject posted to Medium about the time she went camping with Max and he took advantage of her intoxicated state to try and force himself on her. But even the new stories feel familiar, based on the hints we’ve gotten about his behavior all along (many of which we detailed in our own non-exposé over a year ago). And that’s what I’d like to talk about: the patterns. Because what makes Max Landis so dangerous isn’t just his Hollywood influence or his cruelty. It was the way he ensured these women stayed silent by convincing them he wasn’t a villain at all. He made them feel sorry for him. In almost all of these accounts, his sexual abuse went hand-in-hand with an insidious brand of emotional manipulation masquerading as friendship.
“He trusted that we wouldn’t ever say anything, worked actively to discredit people who were saying things, and was just as consistent in the abuse as he was with covering it up and manipulating us afterwards,” Julie*, an ex-girlfriend and former friend of Landis’s, explained. “I didn’t realize that I had been raped consistently and deliberately by this man for two years until today, when I wrote it down.”
Through the accounts of several ex-girlfriends, as well as friends and witnesses, the portrait that emerges of Max is eerily similar to a cult leader. He cultivated a group of fascinating friends then played ringleader, selecting favorites and tearing others down, ensuring that anyone who fell out of favor with him was also excommunicated by the group at large. He preyed particularly on women who were new to LA, women who didn’t have a support system of their own. Being friends with Max gave them access to a whole network of other interesting people — people that acted as a sort of camouflage for Max himself.
Julie is still coming to terms with “how much [Landis] hid behind his friends and surrounded himself purposefully with good people, and how much guilt I feel over the fact that I may have made it seem like he was safe, just by being around him and just by lending my presence to his friend group. He used all of us.”
He also used his own mental health diagnosis as a shield, acknowledging his imperfections and claiming he wanted to change. He would be open about the abusive ways he treated women in the past (especially in terms of fat-shaming them, which is a whole pattern unto itself) as if to imply that he had improved, even as he was treating his current girlfriend in much the same way. As his former friend put it:
“He was always vicious, but everyone would say, oh, that’s just how Max is. He’s a jerk. He knows it. He calls himself out on it. There was this conflation of self-awareness with meaningful change. In my opinion some of the worst people in the world are those who openly admit they’re terrible, using that proclamation as a get-out-of-jail-free card. They think, well, you were warned.”
Another ex-girlfriend, Kerry, described the way Max used his own self-awareness to turn the tables on her:
“Abuse is slippery. No one starts out announcing that they’re abusive, you discover it slowly,” Kerry wrote in her statement. “But Max did, somewhat, announce that he was abusive. That was what was so disarming about his particular brand of manipulation … Max also quickly lets you know that he’s sick (with cyclothymia—a form of bipolar disorder) and this was tied to the ways in which he was abusive. It made it even harder to see clearly. It caused me to often mis-file his abusive behaviors as sad indicators of his illness and, as a result, I would often wind up comforting him in regards to his own remorse over his actions.”
“Once he choked me and told me he wanted to kill me. And I would wind up reassuring him that he wasn’t a monster when he felt bad about it. Because I felt bad that he was so sick.”
It’s only recently that several of his former girlfriends and friends have started to compare notes, and recognize that the changes they thought were taking place with Max in fact weren’t.
Julie told The Daily Beast that recent conversations she’s had with Baker and Kerry*, another ex-girlfriend of Landis’s, caused her to further reassess her relationship with Landis. Her continued friendship with Landis, which lasted for years after they broke up, was built on the foundational myth that he “was getting better”—“better with Kerry than he was with me, better with Ani than he was with Kerry. And then it became clear that he had continued to hurt women in the same way that he hurt me. He never got better; he only learned to say the right things.”
“Now I understand that he won’t get better and he is a dangerous person and everything that I thought about him trying and him improving was really just an act.”
The abuses Max heaped on his girlfriends were horrific, but that certainly wasn’t his only M.O. The Daily Beast found a 2008 Miami circuit court case against Max and looked into it. It was a sexual assault accusation that was eventually dropped due to pressure from Max’s lawyer, but the account of the incident from the victim’s roommate is both predictable and disturbing:
In a written statement, Dionne recalled that Callie had told her she was going out for drinks that night with a group of friends, including Max Landis. Later that night, Dionne wrote, “I was asleep and awoke to what sounded like a person falling, and then I heard what sounded like another person picking up someone and setting them down. I then heard more sounds of motion, then I heard Callie’s voice ask in a confused and quiet voice, “[her then-boyfriend’s nickname]” and then repeat the name she called her boyfriend, still sounding confused and delirious. I then heard a male voice confirming he was [boyfriend’s name]. Knowing her boyfriend was out of town at the time, I jumped out of my bed and walked into our shared living room to see Max over Callie on our couch. He was on top of her and her pants were off and he was thrusting and I could hear the sound of what he was doing. I yelled, ‘You need to leave right now!’ He got up, quickly pulling his pants up, and I physically rushed him, aggressively demanding he leave.”
“Standing now in the car port I yelled at him that what he was doing was wrong and it was not OK and that he needed to leave right now,” Dionne continued. “He started to get highly emotional and was crying, saying he knew it was wrong and he was so sorry. It seemed as though he was hoping to be comforted in that moment.”
Yup, he tried to garner sympathy at the site of his attempted rape!
Another woman, going under the pseudonym Veronica, detailed a more recent excursion with Max that followed the same pattern he exhibited with Colour Society Reject: take a woman who is only a friend on a trip out of town where she feels isolated, then try to wear her down. Only in this case, he began by groping her publicly at Disneyland, then coerced her into having sex. And then there are accounts from women who worked on the same set as Max and experienced his uniquely humiliating brand of sexual harassment.
Tasha Goldthwait met Max Landis while she was working as a set costumer on his 2015 feature directorial debut, Me Him Her, which was filmed in the summer of 2013. This professional role was a “newer experience” for Goldthwait, who was in her mid-twenties at the time. The rate was “dirt-cheap.” Once she was on set, Goldthwait learned that she and Landis, the screenwriter and director of the film, had mutual friends in common. Landis quickly began subjecting Goldthwait to what she described as “physical, sexual, and verbal abuse.”
“He would talk about his penis all the time to me, brag about the size of it.” She continued, “On set he would touch me all the time, he would pick me up and turn me upside down and carry me around set. My shirt would come above my face and I’d be exposed. At one point we were on set with people around and he pushed me down and got on top of me on a bed. I raised my voice and told him to get off of me, and eventually managed to get him off.”
She went on to quit a few weeks before the shoot wrapped, and in a bizarre coda to this incident, Max ran into her father just a little while later.
Bobcat Goldthwait, the comedian and director, told The Daily Beast that his daughter Tasha informed him about her experience with Landis after he had a chance run-in with the screenwriter a few months later. “I ran into him, and he said, I thought you would hate me, I thought you hated me. And I didn’t know what he meant. It was a pretty odd thing. And then when she told me about her being assaulted by him, obviously it all made sense.”
Goldthwait told her father about “some of the behavior, you know, him lifting her up and having her shirt open up and him being very crude constantly around her.” The comic continued, “My daughter knows the difference between people making a joke and people creating an unsafe and aggressive work environment.” He added that, aside from his daughter, he’s heard “a lot of talk about [Landis’s] behavior… And I don’t know why the story never gets broken, and I don’t know if he has the ability to crush this story or his family does, or the people that hire him.”
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the stories related in The Daily Beast’s report, but one thing I’m already seeing people ask on Twitter is why these women didn’t leave. Why they allowed themselves to be treated like this. Why they didn’t recognize the abuse for what it was. And I think that may be why this exposé is so incredibly important. When it comes to figures like Harvey Weinstein, it’s obvious why it took so long for victims to come forward. The abuse was predicated on an enormous amount of professional clout that ensured the victims would remain silent for the sake of their careers. But with Landis, so many of his victims stayed silent because they didn’t view themselves as victims at all. His physical and sexual abuses may be horrific, but it’s his emotional assaults that made him particularly dangerous. He convinced these women that he was the one that needed help — and then set them up to lose not only their careers but their friends and entire social structure if they ever broke away from him. He systematically tore down their sense of self. He changed the fabric of their realities, and it’s only with distance that they can begin to recognize the extent of the abuse he perpetrated against them.
And if I’m being honest, it’s the emotional dynamic to these stories that resonates with me so much. Because I’ve been manipulated too. I’ve been convinced that up is down, black is white, and that my partner’s damage took precedence over my own well-being. Emotional abuse isn’t just a gateway to worse assaults — it’s incredibly damaging all on its own. And just like these women, we all need to learn how to recognize it.