Controversial HBO series ‘The Idol’ to reportedly premiere at Cannes

All the controversy around “The Idol,” HBO’s upcoming showbiz drama from The Weeknd and “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson, is over a show almost no one has actually seen because it isn’t finished yet. But people are going to have a chance to see the sexually charged series perhaps unexpectedly soon. IndieWire reports that two or three episodes of the six-episode show will premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

“The Idol,” which tells the story of a pop star (Lily-Rose Depp) who falls under the sway of a cult leader (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye), was the subject of a bombshell Rolling Stone report earlier this month that alleges the production has gone “wildly, disgustingly off the rails.” The show’s original director Amy Seimetz was dismissed from the show in April 2022 with filming an estimated 80 percent complete because of creative differences. According to Rolling Stone, Seimetz’s ouster happened because Tesfaye felt the story was being told from too much of a “female perspective.” Regardless of the circumstances, co-creator Levinson stepped in to redevelop the show and Rolling Stone reported the series became mired in extensive, expensive, and allegedly chaotic reshoots, with scripts that some sources described as “torture porn.” While the most extreme images in the scripts ended up not being shot, the show has allegedly changed from a satire about the dark side of the entertainment industry to a “toxic fantasy” about a woman who enjoys being abused by a man. 

HBO and Depp, however, strongly denied the reports – with network representatives telling Vanity Fair that the overhaul was because the original version wasn’t good enough and that “the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment.” Depp called Levinson “the best director I have ever worked with” and said she feels “supported and respected.” Tesfaye did not address the report directly but posted an in-character clip on Instagram where his and Depp’s characters disparage Rolling Stone magazine as irrelevant. 

That’s the backstory “The Idol” is coming to screens with, and so the Cannes premiere will be closely observed by Levinson and Tesfaye’s supporters and critics alike. It’s expected to reach HBO and HBO Max sometime this year, though a premiere date has not been set. 

It’s unusual for television shows to screen at Cannes. Historically, the film festival makes exceptions for artistically ambitious projects from filmmakers who previously won top awards at Cannes, like David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: The Return,” Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake,” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Too Old to Die Young.” Levinson and Tesfaye do not have a history with Cannes, but perhaps their show is too buzzy and provocative for Cannes’ programmers to pass up. Levinson just won a Directors Guild Award for “Euphoria” earlier this year.

The 2023 Cannes Film Festival runs from May 16 to May 27. Films expected to premiere at the festival include Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Strange Way of Life.” Ruben Östlund, director of last year’s Palme d’Or winner “Triangle of Sadness,” is this year’s jury president.

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