Last week, unverified screengrabs of extremely lurid text messages allegedly sent by actor Armie Hammer between 2016 and 2020 were posted by the Instagram account @houseofeffie, which also compiled nearly half a dozen examples of women who claimed to have had an affair with Hammer while he was married. Some of the fantasies contained in the screengrabs were dark, to say the very least. In one, Hammer professes his desire to “bite pieces off of” the recipient and eat her heart; in another, he says, “I am 100% a cannibal. I want to eat you. Fuck. That’s scary to admit. I’ve never admitted that before.”
It’s important to note that the screengrabs have not been verified, and Hammer himself has denied that they are legitimate. (Representatives for Hammer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Yet after the celebrity gossip Instagram account Deuxmoi amplified them, they instantaneously went viral, with people on Twitter joking about his sexual proclivities and TikTok making videos of Hammer dancing set to Ke$ha’s “Cannibal.” The backlash grew so intense that Hammer was forced to drop out of his upcoming romcom with Jennifer Lopez, issuing a statement saying, “I’m not responding to these bullshit claims but in light of the vicious and spurious online attacks against me, I cannot in good conscience now leave my children for 4 months to shoot a film in the Dominican Republic.” (Hammer is also engaged in a contentious custody dispute, which also served as fodder for people’s internet mockery).
That said, there is no reason to believe that Hammer has actually murdered and ingested an individual; if he had, one can only assume the promotional tour for The Lone Ranger would have been much less boring. What is up for debate, however, is whether such kinks are actually inherently predatory or abusive — or if there is not another conversation to be had about them, one that is a lot less memeable but significantly more nuanced than the one being had right now. So I asked Empress Wu, a professional dominatrix based in New York City, who has, as she puts it, a “deeply rooted cannibalism fetish.”
As Wu explains it, cannibalism fetishes have nothing to do with actually eating another person. “It’s predicated on a certain amount of fantasy and there are different elements to toy around with,” she says. She has made custom clips that play with the “vore” fetish (a similar fetish in which someone fantasizes about being small and being consumed by a giant) and participated in scenes where she’s bitten someone or pretended to cut them open, or talked about turning someone into a piece of meat and cutting into them. “To some people it might be like lancing your finger and making someone drink the blood. To others it might be biting. To others it might be eating someone out. It might be the theater of sitting at a table and eating sushi off their body,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a typical way you enact a cannibalism scene because the ultimate act itself is extremely unrealistic.”
Wu has engaged with the cannibalism fetish from both ends, as both a “consumer” and a “consumee.” As a domme, or the consumer, “the power or pleasure is derived from the knowledge that they’re willing to give part of themselves for my pleasure or nourishment,” she says. On the other side of the equation, “for me, there are a lot of different instances where it represents closeness,” she says. “When you really think about it, desire is about the craving to assimilate an other. When you are so fucking into that person you need to have them or be owned by them or be entangled in a specific way, cannibalism as a fetish really highlights or fulfills this sense of wanting to be close to someone and the futility that it’ll never fully happen.”
Most experienced members of the kink community put a high premium on consent, and as is the case with most BDSM scenes, all of these dynamics are carefully negotiated beforehand, with both parties participating in an extensive post-play briefing to share what they did and didn’t enjoy about the experience; aftercare, or the period of time where the dominant tends to the sub’s physical and emotional needs, is imperative for even the most experienced kinksters.
At first, Empress Wu says, she was relatively unperturbed by the alleged Armie Hammer sexts: “they seemed pretty typically male dom-y, if not a slight bit extreme.” (For what it’s worth, Hammer has talked openly about his fondness for kink in a 2013 Playboy interview, and was busted for liking a rope-play tweet in 2017.) It was when she delved further into them that she started to see some “red flags.” In one message, after the recipient says that having a belt around her neck during sex is “too much,” Hammer responds, “yes”; in another, referring to a prior sexual encounter, a woman says, “I did truly want to stop for most of the time.” “That’s pretty explicitly a consent violation, and that’s the core of the issue,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what fetish it was, that’s irrelevant. But when there’s a boundary violation that is something that should always be paid attention to.”
To complicate matters further, Hammer’s exes have come forward to allege inappropriate or nonconsensual behavior. “He kind of captivates you and while being charming, he’s grooming you for these things that are darker and heavier and consuming,” ex-girlfriend Courtney Vucekovich, who dated Hammer from June to August, told Page Six, in addition to saying Hammer wanted to “barbecue and eat” her. “When I say consuming, I mean mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, just everything.” She added that he “did some things with me that I wasn’t comfortable with. You end up doing things that are very out-of-character for you, including sex acts,” though she wouldn’t specify what those were. Another one of Hammer’s former girlfriends, the writer Jessica Ciencin Henriquez, tweeted, ““If you are still questioning whether or not those Armie Hammer DMs are real (and they are) maybe you should start questioning why we live in a culture willing to give abusers the benefit of the doubt instead of victims.”
Empress Wu says that the discourse surrounding Hammer’s transgressions should focus less on his alleged kinks and more on the alleged consent violations that occurred with the women in these texts. “I consider it a bad representation of BDSM because I don’t consider it BDSM,” she says. If the messages are real, “this man has a fetish, this man has a kink, but I don’t think it was true BDSM because there was a clear consent violation that occurred. It’s just, like, spicy assault.”