Rose McGowan has called out the “self-fellating town” of Hollywood for its treatment of women in a blistering open letter to a film critic.
Following a piece on Renée Zellweger by Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, titled “If she no longer looks like herself, has she become a different actress?” director and musician McGowan not only damned his musings as “vile, damaging, stupid and cruel”, but vehemently criticised the inherent sexism of the industry as a whole.
Describing her personal experience of having been “bullied for years” in Hollywood, the former actor spoke of the “harassment and abuse” women in the public eye are subjected to in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, writing: “How dare you use her as a punching bag in your mistaken attempt to make a mark at your new job.
“How dare you bully a woman who has done nothing but try to entertain people like you. Her crime, according to you, is growing older in a way you don’t approve of. Who are you to approve of anything? What you are doing is vile, damaging, stupid and cruel.”
Zellweger was first subject to speculation over whether she'd had cosmetic surgery in 2014 when she attended an awards ceremony in Beverly Hills. She later responded that she was “glad” a new healthier lifestyle had made a difference, saying: “I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows [...] Perhaps I look different. Who doesn't as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I'm happy.”
Gleiberman’s piece speculated on how any rumoured surgery could affect the viewer's experience of Zellweger's films, implying he felt cheated as a Bridget Jones fan after watching the trailer for Bridget Jones’s Baby: “I thought: she doesn’t look like Bridget Jones!
“Oddly, that made it matter more. Celebrities, like anyone else, have the right to look however they want, but the characters they play become part of us. I suddenly felt like something had been taken away.”
McGowan called him “an active endorser of what is tantamount to harassment and abuse of actresses and women” and gave an example of the disturbing sexism she had encountered herself.
“I speak as someone who was abused by Hollywood and by people like you in the media, but I’m a different breed, one they didn't count on. I refuse and reject this bullshit on behalf of those who feel they can't speak.
“I am someone who was forced by a studio to go on Howard Stern, where he asked me to show him my labia while my grinning male and female publicists stood to the side and did nothing to protect me. I am someone who has withstood death threats from fan boys, had fat sites devoted to me. I've withstood harassment on a level you can’t comprehend, Owen.
“I was so confused by the heaping tons of abuse, I actually forgot what I looked like.”
Referencing Zellweger’s breakthrough role in Jerry Maguire 20 years ago, the critic bemoaned the perceived loss of her “slightly slovenly doughy-cuddly perfection”, writing: “Zellweger, with pillowy cheeks and quizzically pursed lips and that singular squint, was beautiful, but not in the way that a Nicole Kidman or a Julia Roberts was. She was beautiful in the way an ordinary person is […]
“The redemptive comic spirit of the Bridget Jones films is the passionate drunk-girl-next-door everydayness of Bridget, the way that she’s no better than any of us – a spirit reflected, at least in the first two movies, in the slightly slovenly doughy-cuddly perfection of Renée Zellweger’s face […]
“I just hope [Bridget Jones’s Baby] turns out to be a movie that stars Renée Zellweger rather than a victim of Invasion of the Face Snatchers. I hope it turns out to be a movie about a gloriously ordinary person rather than someone who looks like she no longer wants to be who she is.”
McGowan wasn’t standing for any of it, and wrote: “Renee Zellweger is a human being, with feelings, with a life, with love and with triumphs and struggles, just like the rest of us.”
She added of Hollywood, “This town is built on fear. Fear was instilled in me by the men and women of this town, just as I'm sure it was instilled in Ms. Zellweger. Fear of being blacklisted, fear of being branded difficult, fear of ... fear of ... fear of.”
Reese Witherspoon has previously criticised the surgery speculation, calling it “cruel and rude and disrespectful”, while several women have brought the myriad issues of being female in Hollywood under the spotlight, such as Jennifer Lawrence writing an open letter revealing how the gender pay gap in film was partly down to women fearing they’d be labelled difficult if they spoke up.
More recently, Thandie Newton has spoken about being sexually abused by a director at an audition when she was younger, and realising the director in question had been showing people the tape of it years later.
McGowan, 42, has been outspoken in calling out sexism, last month denouncing a billboard for an X-Men film that showed a male character strangling a female character with no context or explanation, and in 2015, revealing the misogynistic note attached to a script sent to her, which read, “Wardrobe note: Black (or dark) form-fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push-up bras encouraged). And formfitting leggings or jeans.”
Gleiberman, 57, responded to a Twitter user who asked if he’d treat male actors the same way, claiming he has written about men and the same issue.
Read Rose McGowan's column in full at thehollywoodreporter.com.
Images: Rex Features