The roots of revolution are in the actions taken by one or two individuals prepared to risk pushing back. By nature, these walking, talking catalysts are people who don’t follow the established rules.
If the social upheaval now frequently described by the shorthand reference #MeToo has this kind of key instigator, then her name is McGowan. And if the movement last autumn that saw one woman after another raise her hand to say she had been the victim of unwanted sexual attention from a boss was ever to have a symbol, it should probably be a rose.
In October last year Rose McGowan, the actress who was until 2017 best known for her role as a witch in the teen television series Charmed and as a star of the film Scream, decided to join those speaking out against Harvey Weinstein – despite a non-disclosure agreement she had once signed – to accuse him of a now-infamous incident of serious sexual abuse she claimed had troubled her for 20 years.
It was a difficult thing to do, even for a feisty Hollywood performer. It laid McGowan open to many accusations; for example, to claims that she had been complicit, or at the very least would never have succeeded in the competitive Hollywood talent marketplace had she not been prepared to put up with a little physical violation every now and then.
Now McGowan, whose life has been under scrutiny for the past three months (and for much longer, if her fears about private investigators hounding her are right), is about to begin to tell her own story more or less entirely on her own terms. This month her much-heralded memoir, Brave, largely about her naming and shaming of the former Hollywood mogul Weinstein, finally comes out. Then in the spring a new documentary television series, Citizen Rose, made for the E! channel, goes out.
“Rose McGowan’s courage in addressing sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood ignited a conversation and inspired other women to speak out against their abusers,” said Amy Introcaso-Davis, a top producer at E!, in a press statement issued last week to promote the new show. “We look forward to taking viewers inside this talented, dynamic woman’s world as the first allegations unfold and she becomes a leading voice in a critical cultural change.”
The series, which will open with two hour-long episodes, is being made by the team behind Keeping Up with the Kardashians and aims to take a behind-the-scenes look at her feminist campaigning. For McGowan, the series will serve “to amplify my message of bravery, art, joy and survival”.
On Friday, in an interview that flagged up some of the content of her new book, Vanity Fair dubbed McGowan the “white-hot voice of rage” still speaking out for many women and some men who have been abused in the entertainment industry – an arena where the stakes are particularly high. She has, the magazine pointed out, the backing of a growing Twitter brigade, the #RoseArmy. Tomorrow night, at the Golden Globe Awards, when a succession of actresses dressed in black walk the red carpet in solidarity, it will be a visual tribute to those fearless few, such as McGowan, who spoke out first. Weinstein, so often the luxuriating Nero figure at the heart of awards proceedings of the past, remains the main focus of McGowan’s wrath. “They built a motherfucking beast, and they built a motherfucking problem, I am that problem to all of them,” she has said. “He represents all of them to me. And that is why he must be slayed.”
Like many whistleblowers before her, McGowan, 44, is nobody’s normal girl-next-door. Those who might be looking for a homely kid to impress on them from the witness box the carnality of powerful men will be disappointed. This, her book Brave argues, is partly what marked her out as a target for Weinstein, and for several others before and since.
Born in Tuscany, McGowan grew up in the sinister Children of God cult. Members of the communes in this sexually fixated organisation are encouraged to go out and attract recruits any way they can. Flirting is a standard technique.
Once in America, her parents divorced and she moved between their homes, becoming a teenage runaway and rehab veteran in Los Angeles, where she began a relationship with a rich boyfriend.
According to McGowan, the next cult – Hollywood – was waiting to embrace her. A series of manipulative Tinseltown men are certainly in her sights, but so too is the whole “business they call show”. Brave argues that many of the things young actresses are asked to do on screen, let alone in hotel rooms, are fundamentally exploitative.
In one chapter McGowan recounts an affair with Robert Rodriguez, an apparently charming director who wanted to give her a lead role in a Quentin Tarantino double feature. When she confided in him about her alleged experiences with Weinstein she believes he used it as a tool to handle her professionally, and even sold on the film they made together to Weinstein’s company (something that Rodriguez denies was a deliberately cruel or unsupportive action.)
The memoir uses the incident to chart McGowan’s martyred path through the hidden perils of Hollywood. The author believes all her suffering will now be worthwhile, if she can help others. “Even with Rodriguez, as brutal as it was, it was all gathering data. Unfortunately, I am the data. It was a sacrifice. But I knew from a very early age that this messaging system was very, very wrong and needed to be brought down,” she says.
McGowan told Vanity Fair defiantly last week that she plans to fight back with a ferocity equal to that of all her enemies – especially Weinstein. “I’ve had this giant monster strapped to me for 20 years. So many women have been strapped around him. He ate so many of our souls that he couldn’t tell which way was which. He’s always been gunning for me. But that’s OK. I’ve been gunning for him, too.”
So as we sit back this year either to read or to watch McGowan’s story unfold in her own words, she is not the only actress who appears to be moving back into the limelight. Two other stars who alleged that abuse at the hands of Harvey Weinstein damaged their burgeoning career are also staging comebacks.
The Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino, who claims that she was sidelined after she declined the producer’s persistent advances, has an upcoming role in the hit sitcom Modern Family, while Annabella Sciorra, who was early to put her head above the glittering Beverly Hills parapet, has a recurring part in the Netflix series GLOW.
McGowan may justly claim to have been “slut shamed” and denigrated when she first dared to speak out, but if working life beyond admitting victimisation begins to look a bit better, then the future for many other vulnerable ingenues working in the film industry may happily start to improve.
Indeed, prospects, if not suddenly bright, at least appear to be a little Rose-tinted.