Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet made headlines last week for adding their beloved bohemian sensibility to a growing subset of celebrity news: the divorce announcement.
Heralded by one outlet as a “masterclass” in public breakups, the post continued, “We share this not because we think it’s newsworthy ~ But so that~ as we go about our lives we may do so with dignity and honesty. The love between us carries on, evolving in ways it wishes to be known and lived. We free each other ~to be who we are learning to become...”
Momoa and Bonet’s statement is just the latest in a long string of celebrity divorce announcements that go beyond the perfunctory requests for “privacy during this difficult time,” and instead dive headfirst into the changing way we view the end of a marriage: If it’s all right for the A-list ideal to come down to reality, then perhaps breakups aren’t the black hole they once were.
In August, actress Kate Bosworth and director Michael Polish announced their split with a social media announcement that read like a romance novel.
“Our hearts are full, as we have never been so enamored and deeply grateful for one another as we do in this decision to separate,” read part of the statement, which also mentioned new professional collaborations in the works. Like Bonet and Momoa, they crafted a message that seemed to say: Not only is everything fine, it’s better.
Divorce, according to these public displays of reflection, is neither unforgivable nor a failure; it is merely a fact of life. The shift in sentiment has been seismic, and famous folks have provided the scale.
“Celebrities give the public a way to debate and work through issues that concern us. We’re concerned about our relationships as parents, as partners. We use celebrities to talk about this stuff without having to talk about ourselves,” said Sharon Marcus, author of the book “The Drama of Celebrity.”
Who can forget when Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow and her then-husband, musician Chris Martin, announced in 2014 that they would consciously uncouple? The term, at first an easy punchline, is now the blueprint.
Later that same year, singer Jewel announced that she and husband Ty Murray had “been engaged in a private and difficult, but thoughtful and tender undoing of ourselves. Allowing ourselves the time and space to redefine what we are to each other with love rather than malice.” Since then, myriad A-list couples from Hollywood to Silicon Valley have announced the ends of their unions without even mentioning the d-word.
“Divorce has always been a flash point for thinking about what marriage means,” Marcus said. And when celebrities divorce, the public gets to inspect every crumb of the path leading up to the announcement without guilt or shame. “We’re less inhibited when we talk about celebrities,” she said. “We can indulge our emotions and dive deeper into these issues than we would if we were talking about ourselves or our neighbors.”
The history of A-list unions (and dissolutions) offers a window into how society as a whole has shifted, Marcus noted. During Hollywood’s Golden Years, studio stars, like the movies they appeared in, were expected to strictly adhere to the social mores of the time. Fantasy was for sale, and divorce wasn’t a viable option for the business. But as the film industry shifted from representing morality plays on-screen to pushing boundaries, celebs followed suit.
“So, on the one hand, divorce is less of a scandal, and, on the other hand, scandal is less of a scandal,” Marcus said. (Of course, that is not to suggest every uncoupling is without its sharp edges; Johnny Depp’s divorce from Amber Heard was so messy that there’s an upcoming two-part documentary about it.)
Though amicable announcements are now largely common practice, public breakups had already changed dramatically in the past few decades. Since the advent of the no-fault divorce in 1970 — which asserts that neither party is to blame — the perception of divorce has done a complete 180, said Laura Wasser, the family law attorney who has handled the divorces of Kim Kardashian West, Angelina Jolie and Depp. She calls it “the evolution of dissolution.”
“We have started to make divorce less taboo, less ugly, less ‘this is a failure,’ ” she said. The joint statement is part of that cultural trend.
According to those whose job it is to protect their clients from getting dirty, social media has been the driving force toward those gentle unpairings.
“You want to control the narrative,” Wasser said. In California, where a large swath of famous couples live, divorce records are made public as soon as they are filed, so it behooves the couple to get out in front of the inevitable story.
She advises her clients to “set the narrative and then shut up.” Once the news of the divorce is out in the world, her goal is to settle all legal matters quietly and behind closed doors. “If you want your privacy, then act privately,” said Wasser, who in 2018 launched It’s Over Easy, an online platform that streamlines the divorce process.
The joint announcements help by setting the tone of the split early on. Couples can’t publicly tout how much they “respect,” “love” and “admire” each other in one post and then tear apart each other in the next — at least not without looking slightly unhinged.
In the matter of the couple formerly known as Kimye, the ups and downs of the split have provided more than enough fodder for a year’s worth of headlines. The pair have been on and off the same page since Kardashian filed for divorce in February. While Kardashian has largely stayed mum about the behind-the-scenes drama (save for a few confessionals during the final season of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”), West has repeatedly tried to change the narrative of their split by either pleading for his family back or blasting the Kardashians for keeping them apart.
Notably, the two never released a joint statement.
Paltrow, the godmother of the celebrity divorce announcement, reflected on her personal flash point in an essay for Vogue.
“Conscious uncoupling/separation/divorce, whatever you want to call it,” she wrote, “has now permeated the breakup culture. Instead of people approaching me with, ‘Why did you say that?’, they now approach me with, ‘How do you do that?’ ”
Well, first they should sit down and write it out.