Sunday 22 July 2018

The fury behind bringing down 'Monster' Weinstein

Memoir: Brave, Rose McGowan, HarperCollins, hardback, 272 pages, €25.20

Defiant: Rose MacGowan's memoir Brave is unrelenting and not an easy read
Defiant: Rose MacGowan's memoir Brave is unrelenting and not an easy read

Allison Pearson

Rose McGowan, the woman who was the catalyst for the #MeToo movement, reveals how she was hacked, stalked and trailed by Israeli spies as she played her part in the downfall of the movie mogul

The unmasking of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as a man with Henry VIII's gargantuan appetites and sense of entitlement (more than 80 women have so far accused him of sexual abuse; he denies all allegations of non-consensual sex) has caused an earthquake, and the tremors are still being felt - not only in Hollywood, but in politics, sport and business.

One of the leading players in Weinstein's downfall was the actress Rose McGowan. In October, she accused a "studio head" of rape on Twitter, using the hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport. Now, she has published Brave, a memoir that doubles as a furious call to arms.

The cover photograph sets the tone. The former actress turned sexual assault activist is having her head shaved like a warrior about to do battle. In this case, her fight is with the movie business, which insisted that the quirky young punk grew long hair. "Otherwise the men doing the hiring wouldn't want to f*** me, and if they didn't want to f*** me, they wouldn't hire me."

You know that Brave isn't going to be a quiet, reflective work from the start when the author styles herself "Cult Member. Runaway. Captive. Starlet. Victim. Sex Symbol. Justice Seeker". For good measure, she tells us that, while writing this book, she "endured being hacked, stalked, spied on, had parts of this manuscript stolen. My life was infiltrated by Israeli spies and harassing lawyers, some of the most formidable on earth. These evil people hounded me at every turn while I went about resurrecting the ghosts that had made up my time on earth."

Israeli spies? It makes McGowan sound hysterical and paranoid. In fact, as the New Yorker alleged last November that Weinstein did indeed hire ex-Mossad agents to dig up dirt on his accusers and silence them. McGowan was also blacklisted by other studios on Harvey's say-so after accepting a $100,000 settlement for an incident in his hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. It's impossible not to sympathise with the then vulnerable 23-year-old who was gaslighted to the point of doubting her sanity by the man she refuses to dignify with a name. In these pages, Weinstein is referred to, simply and effectively, as the Monster.

There is an awful symmetry here. McGowan was raised in the Children of God cult, where the leader David Berg, "the King of Creeps", exerted the power of a Hollywood studio head. She notes bitterly that life took her "from one dangerous cult to another". Her father fled when the group began encouraging sex with children, but took only his offspring and his second (polygamous) wife; Rose's fragile mother was left behind.

That's quite enough trauma for one lifetime, but horror piles on horror, and repelled by American conformity, the feral urchin runs from one dysfunctional parent to the other so many times you lose count. By the age of 13, she was sent to drug rehab. At 15, she "divorced" her parents.

There are inconsistencies in her recollections. To illustrate the fact that she has been dealing with men's hatred "simply because I'm a woman for my entire life", she recalls her father calling her "a feminazi", which is odd because that would have been in the early 1980s and the term wasn't popularised until 1992.

Having "developed a chest almost overnight", she starts to attract lewd male attention and claims she thought, "Why does a man's desire supersede my right to dignity? What makes certain men think their perversions are more important than a girl's right to exist as a free human in society?" That doesn't sound like any 14-year-old I've ever met. But you know that McGowan would have no patience with such pickiness.

Living in Los Angeles, her fear of imperfection became an eating disorder. Poring over magazines for "thinspiration", she slept with exploitative Hollywood rats before finding a kindly, loving boyfriend, who was swiftly murdered: "stabbed 23 times and almost decapitated." Of course he was. Soon after, McGowan was talent-spotted outside a gym and ended up landing a leading role in The Doom Generation. It was an amazing break and she made the most of it.

The book's wellspring is her encounter with Weinstein. This is the first time McGowan has spelt out exactly what she claims he did to her, and it is all the more powerful for being among the calmer passages. Summoned to a hotel restaurant by the Monster's courtiers, she found herself ushered upstairs to a suite, where the mogul treated her with disdain.

"I was certain... we were here to plot out the grand arc of my career," she says. Instead, she claims, Weinstein manoeuvred her into a room with a Jacuzzi and pulled off her clothes. "I freeze like a statue." She says he performed oral sex on her while masturbating. In her desperation, she thought of the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm. Mustering her acting skills, in tears, she did the same to get the brute to finish.

What followed supports her thesis that women in Hollywood are Barbies to be played with and discarded. When she inquired about pressing charges, a brusque female lawyer told her: "You are an actress. You've done a sex scene. You will never win." Others said the assault could be great for her career. She claims that, when she told Ben Affleck about it, he said: "Goddamn it. I told him to stop doing that."

McGowan's martyr shtick is not always convincing. Was she really a helpless female commodified by the leery male gaze when she did a titillating Rolling Stone cover at the age of 34, naked except for a chastity belt of bullets? Might she not have said: "You know, guys, just wearing an ammunition belt is not such a good look?" Breezy comments she made soon after paint a different picture. "I did Rolling Stone the other day and it was a kind of crazy lack of outfit. I thought, 'Oh Lord, I'm never going to be in a Jane Austen film now.'" That sounds like a woman revelling in her sexuality and mocking any prude who dares to criticise. She might well call this observation "slut-shaming", but are woman allowed to have it both ways and then blame it all on men?

Still, there are piercing shafts of self-knowledge, too. "I'm sure I was unnerving as a child because of my intensity - I tend to unnerve people to this day," she says. Perfectly true. She appeared recently on Stephen Colbert's talk show, sporting a red hoodie and a raucously eff-you attitude, and went out of her way to make it as awkward as possible.

Wary of the minefield surrounding victims of sexual assault, Colbert didn't challenge any of McGowan's wild or incoherent statements. She agreed she felt comfortable with making people uncomfortable and, in Brave, she certainly succeeds.

There is disappointingly little about the Israeli spies or other specifics of her alleged intimidation by Weinstein. Brave is monotonous, not in the usual low mumble of monotony, but in its unceasing klaxon of rage. Rightly, she shoots down "boys will be boys" excuses, snapping at parents to raise their sons to treat girls as human instead. But sometimes the tirade is too long, too much. "I was sold for the pleasure of the public," she rants. "It's as if I was a sex worker whose value was measured by how much semen you could extract from anonymous masses of men... Deeply programmed men (and women) made money selling my breasts, my skin, my hair, my emotions, my health, my being. I was not taken seriously, nor was I respected dramatically."

Well, they're taking her seriously now. This is not an easy book, but, as you finish it, you conclude it probably took that weirdness, a devil-may-care defiance, to break ranks and expose the Hollywood cult (and create a new one, incidentally, in #metoo). She is "immeasurably proud of having a hand in this cataclysmic global reckoning and the felling of monsters". This maiden brought down her personal Monster, which was both brave and necessary. Where the revenger's tragedy will end up is another story.

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