The Big Picture
- Writer-director Sam Levinson has faced controversy before, with reports of disorganized sets and criticisms of objectifying young women in his work.
- Petra Collins, a multi-hyphenate artist, claims that Levinson drew direct inspiration from her photography for the aesthetic of Euphoria, but she was ultimately not hired or credited for her contributions.
- This isn’t the first time Levinson has been accused of taking control of a production after drawing inspiration from a female creative’s work, raising questions about the origins of Euphoria‘s defining aesthetic.
Writer-director Sam Levinson just can’t seem to evade controversy. The creator of The Idol and Euphoria made headlines earlier this year thanks to a viral Rolling Stone article detailing the behind-the-scenes chaos of The Idol‘s production, effectively making it one of the most talked about shows of the year before it even aired. In addition to reports of disorganized sets and production schedules, Levinson has also been criticized for objectifying young women and using his work to rather clumsily hit back at his own critics.
Levinson has recently found himself in hot water once again after several posts went viral on X (formerly known as Twitter) with excerpts from an interview with multi-hyphenate artist Petra Collins. In an interview with the online magazine Punkt from January of this year, Collins claims Levinson drew direct inspiration from her photography for the aesthetic of Euphoria, and that he initially asked her to direct the series, but she was ultimately not hired and left entirely uncredited.
Who Is Petra Collins?
Canadian-Hungarian Petra Collins is a photographer, director, and visual artist who first started posting her photography to the microblogging platform Tumblr in the early 2010s. She also contributed to the now-defunct online magazine Rookie and created her own (also defunct) art collective The Arduous, showcasing the work of up-and-coming female artists. She has an extensive resume as a photographer, working with fashion brands like Gucci and Bimba y Lola, shooting for an array of publications including Vogue, i-D, and Elle, and photographing everyone from Young Thug to Kim Kardashian. She’s also directed a number of music videos for pop artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Selena Gomez and rappers Cardi B and Lil Yachty. Most recently she’s collaborated with rising star Olivia Rodrigo, directing four of her music videos including “good 4 u” and “vampire.”
Collins has a distinct visual style that she’s been developing for over a decade, defined by a hazy, dreamlike quality present in both her photography and the music videos she’s directed. Her work explores subjects of femininity, the transition from girlhood to adulthood, and the complexities of female sexuality. Her music videos with Rodrigo not only reflect Collins’ signature aesthetic, but perfectly capture the singer’s angsty teen pop sound, and her recent collaboration with Euphoria star Alexa Demie switches things up a bit, leaning into erotic folklore with their book Fairy Tales.
Was Petra Collins Involved With ‘Euphoria’?
According to Collins in her interview with Hungarian photography magazine Punkt, Levinson initially reached out to tell her he wrote a show based on her photography and asked her to direct it. This prompted her to move to Los Angeles, where she worked with HBO for five months before she was told they wouldn’t be hiring her because she was too young. Assuming they wouldn’t proceed with her version of the show, Collins took it as a learning experience, until one day she walked out of her apartment and was shocked to see a billboard for the show featuring a nearly exact replica of her work.
It was a creative turning point for Collins, who had to change her style now that people had begun to associate it exclusively with Euphoria. In her words, “It was so intense to me, because this is the aesthetic that I built all my life, and now I have to change it, ’cause it enters the mainstream and it’s been taken away from me. The worst thing was when people were unknowingly saying this show looks like your photos.”
According to a recent article from The Daily Beast, an unnamed source close to Levinson denied Collins’ version of events, stating, “As a fan of hers, he was hoping there was a possibility they could work together in that way. But by no means was anything promised. That wouldn’t have even been possible for him to do because ultimately it’s the network’s decision.” Even so, it’s hard to deny the visual similarities between the aesthetic of Season 1 of Euphoria and Collins’ photography, specifically her “Coming of Age” photo series from 2016/17, as pointed out by writer and photographer Cat Cardenas on X.
This isn’t the first time Levinson has been accused of drawing inspiration from a female creative’s work just to take control of the production himself. Filmmaker Amy Seimetz was initially set to direct all six episodes of Levinson’s series The Idol, which he co-created with Abel Tesfaye and Reza Fahim, until Deadline reported in April of last year that she exited the project due to “a major creative overhaul.” According to the aforementioned Rolling Stone exposé, Seimetz left The Idol with approximately 80% of the series complete, but with Seimetz at the helm, Tesfaye thought the series was leaning too much into a “female perspective.” It’s unclear how much (if any) of Seimetz’s vision for the show carried over into the final product, but in the end, Levinson directed all six episodes.
Considering Euphoria‘s aesthetic — from cinematography to makeup and costuming — has become the show’s defining feature, spawning countless TikToks and Pinterest boards, it’s disappointing to learn that the so-called “Euphoria aesthetic” actually originated from a young female artist who never received proper credit for a visual style she developed as a means of self-expression. As some viewers mourned Seimetz’s version of The Idol that never saw the light of day, we’re now left to wonder what Euphoria would have looked like under Collins’ direction.