"Brave" by Rose McGowan; HarperOne (272 pages, $27.99)
The casting notice, trolling for the latest female lead in a new Adam Sandler movie, led with the breasts. And for Rose McGowan it was time to say something.
In a 2015 tweet, actress McGowan, best known at the time for five seasons on the supernatural TV hit "Charmed," copied the Sandler movie audition notice. It called for actresses to wear a "black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged)."
The response to McGowan's Twitter call-out spoke to a collective, long-simmering enough, already in the culture. Even a fair percentage of men, whose entertainment diets have been crammed for generations with large helpings of entitlement cheesecake, read that tweet and thought: enough, already. Can't we do better?
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McGowan says we have no choice. Rough around the edges and rough at its core, "Brave" is McGowan's new memoir, a serrated, up-and-down (in every way) account of a lifetime feeling, as she says, "hunted and objectified."
She has gone public, for several years now, with allegations of sexual assault against now-and-forever-disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein. In "Brave" she spells out her account in detail. Under the guise of a work meeting, Weinstein arranged to meet with McGowan the morning after a movie of hers screened at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. At Sundance, McGowan was also promoting a Miramax picture, "Phantoms," starring Ben Affleck.
The meeting was conducted in Weinstein's enormous suite at the Stein Eriksen Lodge. After a few questions about her career ambitions, it began: the patented no-exit Weinstein pleading and coercion into the danger zone. He raped her in the Jacuzzi, McGowan writes. This was not long after the actress, a rising star, had told an MTV cameraman: "I think my life is finally getting easier."
When she told Affleck about the incident, McGowan claims, he responded: "I told him to stop doing that." Affleck has not responded to McGowan's account. Last week, Weinstein's lawyer issued a statement characterizing the "Brave" version of events as "a bold lie" designed to "promote her new book."
The Weinstein attack arrives around the memoir's midpoint. McGowan never mentions "the Monster," the "Studio Head," the "Pig Monster" or simply "the pig" by name. By that point, her book has given us a lot to consider regarding the persistent, terrifying cycles of physical, emotional and sexual assault in McGowan's life.
Now 44, she was born in Certaldo, Italy, in Tuscany, and raised in a polygamous cult known as Children of God. She escaped sexual molestation, but she claims she witnessed a sinister array of exploitative and/or criminal behavior. It was "a highly sexualized environment," she writes, "run by men, to benefit men." It prepared her all too well for Hollywood.
Eventually her father fled with McGowan and her older brother, Nat, along with her father's new wife, leaving the old wife (Rose's mother) behind in Italy. McGowan's disorienting American childhood and early teen years were spent ping-ponging from Oregon and Washington to Colorado, between various relatives. She turned teenage runaway. She did a lot of drugs and spent some time in rehab. She dated a variety of control-freakish manipulators with violent streaks. And then she made her first movie, as a $35-a-day extra on the apocalyptic 1990 B-movie "Class of 1999." The shoot, she writes, was also the occasion of a sexual assault.
Then came the LA years. For a time, McGowan reunited with her mother and attended Hollywood High School. McGowan, then 15, met a 20-year-old trust fund kid, one in a string of despicably jealous possessors plaguing her private life. McGowan also coped with eating disorders, and while parts of "Brave" are routinely written, at her best the author vividly captures a concrete image or a moment amid the swirl of this harsh life. This sentence, for example: "I would sit on the toilet because of the laxatives I was taking and cut out pictures of girls who were thinner than me." That says a great deal about body image and female beauty norms without a single comma.
The married writer-director Robert Rodriguez wrote for McGowan – his girlfriend at the time – the role of the go-go dancer with the machine gun leg in "Planet Terror," one half of the Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino scuzz double bill known as "Grindhouse." Rodriguez, McGowan writes, turned out to "outdo even my father in cruelty." In "Planet Terror," McGowan's character is nearly raped by a military leader played by Tarantino; in the Tarantino half of "Grindhouse," "Death Proof," McGowan suffered potentially serious injuries filming a car stunt.
Those Miramax-distributed movies, she believes, "are salacious, but as female-exploitation flicks go, they're pretty great art; they're punk and (expletive) up. But yes, objectification was on high. And so was intense abuse of women, both in reality and symbolically." The most vital material in "Brave" focuses McGowan's complicated disgust on this issue.
The author recently canceled her "Brave" book tour, following a verbal altercation with an audience member during a New York City bookstore appearance. Quick as a flash, McGowan was back on Twitter, indicting "my publicists, assistants, managers and every person sitting in their chairs frozen by their weakness, a weakness called COMPLICITY" for remaining silent during the incident. "The truth is you all failed me. Again. And again. And again."
From a distance, the response felt out of whack, a last straw after the last straw. Little matter. That other tweet, sent into the world in 2015, two years before the fall of Weinstein, tipped the scales and started something momentous in the culture. We may get a better, fairer, more equitable world out of it. If we don't, McGowan's book laments, we really are lost.