Shia LaBeouf has been accused of appearing in "brownface" in a new film in which he plays a gangster character.

Director of upcoming film The Tax Collector David Ayer has responded to the allegations, according to Fox News.

In the film, LaBeouf plays a tough organised crime boss who collects "taxes" from LA gangs. Just after the trailer dropped, critics swarmed Twitter debating whether LaBeouf, the only white actor on the main cast, will wear brownface to appear as a Hispanic gangster.

"It's so sad we don't have enough Chicano actors who were in the gang life for roles like this. Thank God for that little white boy stepping in and saving the day," one tweeted.

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"Oh hey, another movie w/ Latinos and Blacks in glorified gang culture on steroids that reinforces stereotypes & fears for white folks & promotes the cop mentality that 'it's a battlefield out there.' Sigh.....Hollywood, come on. We don't need this right now," another wrote.

Another tweeted: "Shia LaBeouf in a new movie and I'm really hoping he's not playing brownface."

Ayer stepped up to defend the star, explaining that the character is not meant to be Hispanic but is someone who grew up in "hood" culture.

"Really important answer – Shia is playing a white boy who grew up in the hood. This is a Jewish dude playing a white character. Also the only white dude in the movie," Ayer responded to one person who asked him to clarify.

Ayer himself grew up in a similar environment, he said.

"I grew up hood and I'm a white boy. Chicano culture is inclusive – I've seen whiteys, Asians, Blacks, Filipinos all putting in work for the hood. It's part of street culture," he added.

He also said that LaBeouf had done his homework and "studied a real homie like that to get it correct."

He went on to say, "You just told them. It ain't a cop movie. And Shia is playing something very specific. Not brown face."

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The actor, 24, had his whole chest tattooed to look the part, with Ayer describing him as "committed to body and soul".

"He had a tooth pulled on Fury, and then on Tax Collector, he got his whole chest tattooed. So, he kind of goes all in, and I've never known anyone that committed."