Actress Florence Pugh revealed this week in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar that she had recently separated from her partner of four years, scrubs Star Zach Braff. Aside from a few Instagram pics, the couple had kept their relationship relatively low key thanks in large part to the COVID-19 lockdown. They appear to have ended a good relationship with no drama and the couple will be promoting the film they made together. a good personwhen it releases next year.
By the standards of celebrity love scandals, the Braff/Pugh pairing was never exactly Kimye, and yet it sparked intense and alarming reactions from the media and Pugh’s own fans.
To put it bluntly, the seeming majority of Florence Pugh’s fans didn’t like her with Zach Braff. They found the 21-year age difference between the two troubling, if not problematic. He was constantly portrayed as way out of their league or as a brake on their blossoming career. Many victory gifs were shared on Twitter when the news broke, with the dominant tone being one of dizzying relief at the breakup. This was an oddly rare instance of the internet berating the male side of a celebrity romance rather than the female (think Olivia Wilde, Angelina Jolie, and Zawe Ashton).
All of this came despite the fact that Pugh directly noted how difficult it was to deal with the invasive and often cruel coverage of their romance in both the press and the internet. In which Harpers She told Profil that they kept their split as private as possible because “it was a relationship that everyone has an opinion on […] I don’t believe people just because they [celebrities] have this job that every aspect of their lives should be watched and written about. We didn’t sign up for a reality TV show.”
Pugh is a celebrity of the moment, a socialite who seems to comfortably bridge the barrier between acclaim as a respected actor and online buzz in a thoroughly modern form. She’s as popular in Marvel movies as she is in spiky indie dramas, and she’s extremely personable in both interviews and on social media.
Her Instagram account, where she frequently films herself cooking, is very charming but also outspoken when needed. She spoke out against misogynists shaming her for wearing a see-through dress to a fashion event, noting “how easy it is for men to publicly, proudly, and for all to see, totally destroy a woman’s body.” She even used her page to respond to the almost dizzying theory that she broke up with Braff to date her friend, fellow actor and herself midsummer co-star Will Poulter.
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In an Instagram story, she said: “Man. Now this is getting a little silly […] I understand that the nature of this job is that sometimes your privacy is totally destroyed by paparazzi, but fabricating this stuff actually does more harm than good.” Pugh’s recent comments on the invasive reporting, both from the media and online Viewers reflect this open frustration: She’s kept telling us how much this kind of weird, cruel, and occasionally conspiratorial reporting pains her — and yet it never stops.
After calling “gossip channels encouraging members of the public to share private moments of famous people walking down the street” in the Harpers Interview, the somewhat notorious blind gossip account Deuxmoi responded via an Instagram Story that “the ‘street’ is not a private place” and that “if you don’t want people to talk about your relationship, you get a finsta” . It’s a predictably cold reaction to someone else’s argument, but it reflects the general attitude towards how we talk about celebrities.
Fame requires an audience, and there’s an entire ecosystem at play to sustain it, from publicists to the press to social media. Celebrities, willingly or not, have to abide by the rule that their immense privilege is in the interest of other people in them and that they have to offer something in return. Many famous people offer details about their personal lives, but this should not be necessary. Pugh and Braff certainly haven’t spent the four years of their relationship courting the press or using their partnership to sell anything. Unfortunately, such things do not stop the speculation. Surely when someone openly and repeatedly says that the way their supposed fans are talking about them is disturbing, isn’t some decency the least we can offer them?
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We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the main reason the Braff/Pugh romance seemed to upset so many: the age difference. The couple have been separated for over two decades and this has been read by many as reflecting a power imbalance. Age-gap romances have always inspired passionate discourse — sometimes for wicked reasons, but not always. It’s true that younger women are widely fetishized by older men. We’re all too used to seeing stories of 40- and 50-year-old guys in Hollywood marrying women young enough to be their daughters. It’s now more of an amazing cliché than anything else. Some noted Braff’s own history of dating younger women, including Mandy Moore and Taylor Bagley, both of whom were under 22 when they began dating him.
Pugh took to Instagram in a video post in April 2020 to highlight how her comment sections were flooded with harassment and abuse against both herself and Braff due to their age difference. Many of the comments called Braff predatory and accused him of somehow getting Pugh to be his girlfriend. “I am 24 years old. You don’t have to tell me who to love and who not to love, and I would never in my life tell anyone who to love and who not to love,” she said.
Nobody is obliged to like a certain celebrity. You’re free to be a hater if you choose, although the intensity with which Pugh’s own self-proclaimed fans denied her own personality when it came to her relationship choices was deeply revealing. We’ll never be able to stop the spread of false information or conspiratorial gossip, unfortunately, but we can see how it hurts those caught in its crossfire.
Much of the hatred of Florence Pugh’s relationship choices is rooted not in actual concern or celebration from Pugh, but in an active denial of her ability to make her own decisions. Disliking a celebrity’s partner is not the same as bulling her own pleas to be left alone in favor of continued attacks and accusations that she is the victim of a predator. We’ve seen this mindset end, as evidenced by the chilling conspiracies that have plagued the likes of Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles, as well as Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.
In which Harpers Pugh said, “I feel like I’m getting into that groove now in my career where I know what I can take, what I can give, and what I’m not going to accept anymore.” She’s clearly a celebrity with a keen sense of what she wants, both professionally and personally, and she’s not afraid to speak out about what she finds intrusive or uncomfortable. Let’s hope the internet follows suit. Unfortunately, that seems a bit too hopeful. If people were so vicious in her last relationship, what’s stopping her from continuing the pattern when dating someone else?
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