Matthew Newton and Jessica Chastain.
Matthew Newton’s decision to step down as the director of Eve has been widely welcomed on social media – but many have questioned why Jessica Chastain has not quit as the star and producer.
Some criticised Newton for appearing to blame his mental illness when he announced his decision following an avalanche of criticism of his history of assault and domestic violence.
Chastain had said she would produce the character-driven action film scripted by Newton through her firm Freckle Films with Voltage Pictures. The plot is under wraps but reportedly will follow a ruthless female assassin who is hunted by her former employers while trying to tell her family the truth about what she does for a living.
“Matthew is wonderfully adept at crafting complex and relatable characters. We’ve been fans of his work and are so thrilled to be partnering with him and Voltage on Eve,” Chastain and her Freckle Films partner Kelly Carmichael said when making the announcement. “We’ve been fans of his work and are so thrilled to be partnering with him and Voltage on Eve.”
It was to be Newton’s follow-up to Who We Are Now, which received rave reviews after premiering in the special presentations section of the Toronto International Film Festival. That drama starred Julianne Nicholson as Beth, an ex-con who forms an unlikely alliance with Jess, an idealistic lawyer (Emma Roberts) to regain custody of her young son.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Newton said: “Since the announcement of this film, the responses, which are powerful and important, have not fallen on deaf ears. I am profoundly aware that I have a responsibility to lead where I have failed in the past.
“I can never undo the harm that I’ve caused the people I’ve cared about and I carry that shame and responsibility with me every day. Over the past eight years, I have been working extensively with healthcare professionals to help me overcome my addiction and mental health illness.
“For the past six years, I have lived a quiet and sober life. All I can do now is try to be a living amends and hopefully contribute to the positive change occurring in our industry.”
On Twitter actor Anthony Hayes asked Chastain: “Why is it okay to work with Newton as a writer with history of abuse, just not as a director? Instead of stepping off the project yourself, standing by your convictions & giving Matt his script back, you continue to work on his script.”
In comments posted after Variety’s story, ‘Pru Frock’ said: “I find it incredibly interesting his violence is only directed at women. He makes it sound like it was ‘mental illness’ and ‘substance abuse’ instead of good old-fashioned misogyny and domestic violence… He’s a coward and I seriously doubt his remorse. Chastain needs to drop this whole project. She needs to put her money where her mouth is and start working with and for women.”
Others were more equivocal, such as ‘Cadavra’ who observed: “So Mel Gibson gets a second chance and he doesn’t? Interesting.”
Producer Lee Matthews posted on Facebook: “This is a general thought with no specific argument or support for Matthew Newton – what happens when people are genuinely reformed from their past mistakes, are they allowed a second chance?”
That prompted this retort from director Megan Simpson Huberman: “Another thought is that perhaps we could devote more energy to ensuring the victims of DV or sexual abuse return to full confidence and their livelihoods. Before we spend energy worrying about the future of the abuser.”
Neither Chastain nor Voltage Pictures has commented since Newton’s announcement.