Zack Gottsagen appeared with The Peanut Butter Falcon co-star Shia LaBeouf at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday to present the award for Best Live Action Short. In the process, they made history, with Gottsagen becoming the first person with Down Syndrome to present an award at the Oscars. And for most, this was a moment to celebrate.
Jay Ruderman of disability rights organization The Ruderman Family Foundation commented that:
“For nearly a century, disability has been glaringly left out of the conversation on diversity in Hollywood. Tonight’s award presentation marks a substantive step forward for both the Academy and the entertainment industry as a whole. It is our sincere hope that this milestone serves as a springboard for greater inclusion in Hollywood, including through increased authentic casting of actors with disabilities in disability-based roles, and able-bodied based roles.”
Indeed, much has been written of the friendship between LaBeouf and Gottsagen that formed on the set of the excellent Peanut Butter Falcon. The film has received near-universal acclaim (96% on Rotten Tomatoes) for its Mark Twain-inspired story, with much praise directed to the clear bond between the two actors.
But it seems that some viewers didn’t respond well to their presentation, with many believing that LaBeouf was laughing at Gottsagen’s delivery of the award. Folks dashed to social media afterwards, claiming that Shia “literally laughed at the kid with special needs” (Gottsagen is 34 years old), that his behavior was “distasteful” and that he’s now officially cancelled (I feel like that user’s tongue is firmly lodged in their cheek), among many other things.
Fortunately, though, a lot of people read this the right way, with several individuals pointing out that Shia LaBeouf was actually acting sensitively, allowing Gottsagen to be autonomous on stage and treating him like a friend rather than pandering and handholding him through it. Given that the actor credits Gottsagen with helping him stay sober and he spent time posing for pictures with him on the red carpet just prior to the show, I think it’s safe to say that he probably wasn’t making fun of him.
Twitter user Will Tempfer probably sums it up best:
“90% of twitter right now has never heard of The Peanut Butter Falcon and doesn’t know about the sweet friendship between Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen. Direct your misguided judgement somewhere else.”