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.”
Weinstein, the luxuriating Nero figure at the heart of movie awards proceedings, remains the focus of McGowan’s wrath
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.”
Details of what McGowan recalls happening in that hotel room are being held back for the memoir, a book she has worked on for three years, she says. What we do know is that during the 1997 Sundance film festival “the monster” is accused of raping her in the top-floor suite of an exclusive lodge in Deer Valley, Utah.
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.