Rose McGowan's Brave: Four reasons why you should read the actor's daring Hollywood expose
In Brave, there’s real insight that emerges from Rose McGowan's painfully lived experiences and plenty of astute observations.
An eventful and painful life that explodes on text in an unapologetic, rapid voice laced with anger — Rose McGowan’s Brave is all that, and more. Once you get past its reactionary tone, the book offers a pointed, courageous message: about misogyny in Hollywood; of the media's male-dominated soul; of how sexual abuse and harassment are accepted in Hollywood as a 'natural appetite' of its all-male power structure.
The book gives you a detailed picture of the abuse she suffered from Harvey Weinstein, making you cringe while you read. It offers an insider account of her complex relationship with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, an unhinged power equation. In its reiteration of inbuilt sexist approaches, sexist remarks and sexist treatment by Hollywood producers, directors, writers, stylists, lawyers, managers and publicists, McGowan highlights the ease with which women are demeaned and mentally, physically, emotionally abused in showbiz (And "she is just a girl", a line she oft repeats).
Brave is written in the tone of a volatile teenager and often goes overboard. McGowan describes how getting married on the TV show Charmed ‘robbed’ her of the blissful experience of a real marriage. Having accidentally become an actor, her entire experience with cinema is angry and filled with regret. She never liked being an actor or living the life of a star.
But once you get past all this, there’s real insight that emerges from her painfully lived experiences and plenty of astute observations. So, here are four reasons why one must get their hands on Brave.
Of Hollywood Monsters: The Weinstein Episode
The graphic details of this incident make you gag — as does the cover-up machinery. McGowan’s first impression of Harvey Weinstein, whom she refers to as the 'Monster' in the book, reflects just how repulsive she found him instinctively. When she goes to a Sundance red carpet with a co-star (read Ben Affleck), his reaction to the sexual assault is “Goddamit, I told him to stop doing that.” Her manager Jill Messick counsels her that this would be good for her career. She buys her silence for $100,000 and gives away a chunk of it to a rape crisis center. Yet, with Weinstein labeling her ‘bad news’, Rose faces losing out on work. The chief at her talent management agency admits that he had helped bury an expose on the 'Monster' in LA Times, so he shouldn’t have hurt Rose.
The most shocking part in this complicity is everyone’s unquestioning participation. Be it the restaurant host that directs McGowan to Weinstein’s hotel suite or the two young male assistants who leave his suite while she enters, none make eye contact with her. Each one seems to sense what’s coming. Yet no one does or says anything.
This episode’s biggest reveal is that nearly everyone is part of this machinery in Hollywood — a point she makes towards the end of the book with reference to a sex addicted male actor and his deliberate abuse of a young female actress; as well as Bill Cosby. (There’s a whole machine set up behind the grotesque appetites of a star like that…….That makes it a supply chain. It was a cottage industry.)
Damaged Childhood, Runaway Street Punk and Surviving Anorexia
Rose McGowan spent her childhood in the confines of Children of God, a sex cult couched as religion, in Italy. She lives through it all defiantly and escapes with her father when there are claims of paedophilic practices in the sect. Rose’s teenage years are spent jostling between an unstable, angry father and an emotionally dependent mother. She has to defend herself and her siblings as best she can from her abusive step-father (mother's boyfriend), a man who is legally prosecuted for sex abuse committed against his daughter.
McGowan does a stint in rehab, escapes and becomes a street punk. Her early years prove that she has survived hell — hunger, beatings, verbal and physical abuse and general humiliation. She reunites with her father but after tireless arguments, she runs away again and finally lands in Los Angeles.
Throughout, the actor-activist reveals her spirited personality — one that defends her three-and-a-half year old brother from being beaten brutally and one that fights back in Los Angeles. She has fond memories of restarting a life with her mother but it again doesn’t last.
Her mother leaves her with a 20-year old rich, spoilt brat named William, a boyfriend who takes pleasure in dominating her. During her relationship with the abusive drug addict, she has no money to eat but would manage his Hollywood mansion staff. Rose develops an eating disorder during this phase. She decides to finally leave when her boyfriend chokes her by dragging her around by her collar, which makes her lose two toenails. McGowan escapes with her sister by selling Willam’s Ford Explorer and a Steinway Piano.
Abuse mark McGowan’s childhood, a living hell. She finds an escape route in acting. Being homeless and hungry can wear you out ("It’s a different kind of hunger when your stomach is eating itself for the third night straight.") Yet, despite it all, her spirit remains unbroken till date.
Robert Rodriguez and ‘Destruction’
Rose’s relationship with Marilyn Manson, the controversial rock star, was happy and affectionate. Manson paints watercolors, if you must know! Her choice to wear the ‘naked’ dress during this phase got her slut-shamed. Actually, this wardrobe choice reflects on her conflicted state of mind in having to live the life of a celebrity.
Rose’s relationship with Robert Rodriguez, whom she refers to as RR, establishes how abuse and toxicity can become an endless cycle. RR paints her on the roof of his Texan castle, all nude. He steals the name Cherry Darling, one that she had saved for her own daughter, and makes her the lead in his grindhouse film, Planet Terror. Demanding, possessive and angry, RR’s deliberate abuse of power as her director pushes her to a point where she gets nerve damage on an arm. She is also apologetic for having hurt his ex wife by dating him.
The actor-activist mentions Quentin Tarantino’s remark about having ‘used’ the image of her painting her toe nails in Jawbreaker multiple times; a reference to his misogynistic lens on women and foot fetish (again, gag worthy moment). McGowan has called out Tarantino’s cinema for its ultra-violent, damaging treatment of female characters. The ultimate betrayal of RR and Tarantino is when they sell the films — Planet Terror and Death Proof — to Miramax. McGowan has to pose on the red carpet with Weinstein during promotions, his ‘paws’ all over her.
Rejecting the Cult of Thought in Hollywood
Rose McGowan’s shocking personal story apart, Brave is a quick read for everyone because it digs out the deep roots of myth making, mind bending, artificial influence that Hollywood has over people. For adolescent girls, this book is a must read.
Calling it the "Cult of Thought" in Hollywood, Rose constantly brings up the need for artificial perfection and conformity in the film industry. She shares the ageing anxiety that actors feel, and how it’s ingrained that they must remain young, at all costs. That she underwent reconstructive plastic surgery under her eyes and was advised by her publicists to lie about it (calling it the consequence of a car accident), shows how PR machineries perpetrate lies for a living. The showbiz conditioning that she instinctively rejects ends when she poses for a Rolling Stone cover in the buff with Rosario Dawson.
She raises pertinent points about the gradual decline of cinema. “Cinema is dying”, she says, because the all-white, all-male power brokers in Hollywood “have f**ked themselves. They’ve marginalized themselves by clinging to misogynistic ways and outdated ideas.” Why does this feel so close to home, here in Bollywood too?
Pointing out the near absence of female film directors from major studios, the perpetration of female stereotypes, and systematic destabilising of a woman who doesn’t fit in, Rose finds redemption in turning director and communicating with people directly through Twitter. Her point of view of Adam Sandler films and the talented heroines he gets, is a smart analysis of the al- American male bias of Hollywood. Ominously, she points out early on in Brave, “Very few sex symbols escape Hollywood with their minds intact, if they manage to stay alive at all.” And she encourages, “Know what you are watching so you can reject it. If Hollywood can’t change, it deserves to fail.”
Well, this argumentative statement rings close to reality today. As does most of the book, which — in its effortless burning of bridges by a 40-plus actor — is brave in thought and purpose.
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