From unnecessary sexualisation to The Idol: Unpacking Sam Levinson's growing list of controversies.

Sam Levinson might not be a name you recognise – but you've definitely heard of his TV shows.

The writer and director is best known for creating Euphoria and The Idol – two shows that have been watched by millions, have dedicated fan bases, and have stirred up even bigger controversies.

Both shows have darker, somewhat seedier plotlines, and criticism that Levinson has taken it too far in certain circumstances is growing.

From questions about female actors being overly sexualised on set, to controversy surrounding The Idol (starring The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp), here's a timeline of the controversies explained.

Watch: a look back on The Idol's trailer. Post continues below.

Video via HBO.

1. Sam Levinson's beef with Euphoria star Barbie Ferreira.

In the hit show Euphoria, American actress Barbie Ferreira plays Kat Hernandez. In season one, her character had a pretty sizeable storyline, but in season two, it was reduced significantly. 

The reduction in Ferreira's scenes was linked to the growing rumours of disagreements between Ferreira and Levinson on set. She also was not present at the season two premiere. Ferreira later confirmed she was leaving the show and would not be returning for season three.


An anonymous source said at the time: "Barbie got into it with him on set and left one day. He then cut a lot of her lines."

Later on the Armchair Expert podcast this year, Ferreira said it had been a "mutual" decision for her to leave.

She expressed frustration that she was getting stuck and typecast into playing "the fat best friend", and that her character was going down a road she wasn't comfortable with.

"I don't think there was a place for her to go. I think there were places she could have gone. I just don't think it would have fit into the show," Ferreira said.

"I don't know if it was going to do her justice, and I think both parties [Levinson and I] knew that I really wanted to be able to not be the fat best friend. I don't want to play that, and I think they didn't want that either."

Barbie Ferreira in Euphoria. Image: HBO.


2. Sydney Sweeney wasn't a fan of her character's consistent nudity (and she wasn't the only one). 

In a 2022 interview with The Independent, Sydney Sweeney was the first to open up about her reluctance to film the show's nude scenes.

Sweeney's character Cassie was shown topless on numerous occasions during the first season, but during season two, Sweeney said she voiced her discomfort to Levinson regarding the intense nudity of her character.

"There are moments where Cassie was supposed to be shirtless, and I would tell Sam, 'I don't really think that's necessary here.' He was like, 'Okay, we don't need it.'"

Although Sweeney stressed she never felt the nude scenes were "pushed" onto her, some online questioned why the continual nudity for her character was added to the script in the first place. 

Additional women on set have since come forward with similar complaints.

Chloe Cherry told The Daily Beast that in one of her first scenes, Levinson wanted her to be entirely nude.

"It probably would've been more comfortable had we had a little more time to know each other. Sam wanted to do the scene with me completely naked, and [co-star] Tyler was like, 'That's a lot,' so they decided not to."


Martha Kelly said she was also hesitant about a nude scene she was shooting with Zendaya, with Kelly's adult character having to undress, then put Zendaya's teenage character in a bathtub and shoot her up with drugs.

Kelly said, in her opinion, that the scene bordered on having "this gross pedophilia vibe" and she asked Levinson to tone it down – which he did. Filming was then done further away and out of focus.

With this in mind, one frequent objection to Levinson's work is that he seems to unnecessarily sexualise certain female characters.

Sydney Sweeney and Chloe Cherry in Euphoria. Image: HBO.


3. Concerns around the lack of diversity in the non-existent writers' room.

As season two progressed, fans began to notice that the storylines were becoming very male-gazey. There were also calls for more diversity, with very few Black voices in the second season.

It led to questions being asked about who was actually in the Euphoria writers' room. 

Ultimately, Levinson is leading the way throughout much of the show's production – being the director, writer and producer. All 18 episodes have been pretty much entirely written by Levinson himself. There is only one episode that was confirmed to be partly written by one of the show's stars. HBO confirmed to The New York Times that the show does not have a writers' room.

4. Allegations of a toxic culture on set.

The Daily Beast published a story in 2022 on the show's alleged behind-the-scenes drama.

The report claimed that production faced "gruellingly long workdays" that could stretch anywhere from 15 to 17 hours. They said a SAG-AFTRA union rep was sent to the set as a result. 

However, HBO vehemently denied the claims, saying they were unfounded and not true. They also confirmed the set had been run with compliance to "all safety guidelines and guild protocols".

5. The Idol drama. 

The series The Idol was created by singer The Weeknd and Levinson. And for months before it was released in June, there was criticism surrounding the show. 

The first two episodes premiered on May 22 at the Cannes Film Festival, and immediate reactions from reporters and critics in the room were almost universally negative. Amid the criticism, The New York Times awards columnist Kyle Buchanan called it "a Pornhub-homepage odyssey".


Variety said the episodes involved "revenge-porn photos of bodily fluids on Depp's face, nightclub-owning scam artists and vile Hollywood sycophants". And Rolling Stone, which published an exposé on the show's behind-the-scenes drama in March, alleged it was "more toxic and way worse than you've heard".

The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp in The Idol. Image: HBO.


The first hint of drama surrounding this series came in April 2022, when Levinson took over directing duties from Amy Seimetz, despite her having filmed roughly 80 per cent of the six-episode show.

Levinson allegedly decided it needed a new approach as under Seimetz it leaned too far into a "female perspective".

In March 2023, Rolling Stone published an article based on accounts from 13 anonymous cast and crew, who alleged the show features physical and sexual violence akin to "torture porn", and said the production was plagued by delays, reshoots and rewrites.

Insiders told the publication that with Seimetz gone, Levinson dialled up the disturbing sexual content and nudity, and turned it from a tale about a popstar reclaiming her agency in a predatory industry, to a twisted love story.

According to media present at the Cannes Film Festival press conference, Levinson was asked how he created the sex scenes in the series without taking things too far.

"Sometimes, things that might be revolutionary are taken too far," he replied.

Sam Levinson. Image: Getty.


But the show's star Lily-Rose Depp has defended Levinson following the bad press, saying he is "the best director" she has ever worked with.

"Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued," she said.

"Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way – it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it."

As for Levinson himself, he hasn't commented a great deal on the various controversies. Though at the Cannes Film Festival, he did say the specific allegations in the story were "completely foreign" to him.

"My only slight grievance is they intentionally omitted anything that didn't fit their narrative," he said. 

"We've seen a lot of that recently."

Feature Image: Getty/HBO/Mamamia.

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