Imagine a punk-rock variation on feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, speeding through a patriarchal kingdom and howling truths to the people. That’s Rose McGowan, who’s been sandblasting her way through the promotional circuit this week to promote her memoir, “Brave,” and the E! series “Citizen Rose.” Once written off as a shrill loon, she’s developed a homegrown culture jamming, rejecting conventional etiquette in a quest to destabilize masculine conventions.
“I use language to pierce the brain,” she said. “If I spoke like everybody else spoke, it would just dull everything. I might just know what I’m talking about.”
McGowan comes to her current role after a lifetime of experience. She spent the first stage of her acting career contending with performances that restricted her potential and simmered with silent rage against the misogynistic industry that put her on the map. She survived childhood in the Child of God cult, parental abuse, the death of a teenage sweetheart, and cardboard-thin roles in film and television ranging from “Phantoms” to “Charmed.” And then, Harvey Weinstein raped her in a hotel room, forcing her to endure oral sex in a jacuzzi under the guise of a meet-and-greet. A financial settlement kept her from speaking out — until now.
Read More: Harvey Weinstein’s Worst Nightmare: How Rose McGowan’s Radical Feminism Gave Voice to Women Everywhere
“I don’t have time to fuck around,” she said, sitting down in a midtown conference room in the midst of a swirling promotional tour. She tossed her neon beanie on the table, revealing the bald head that has become a key aspect of her iconography, and her eyes became narrow slits of fury. “I have to talk straight,” she said. “Metaphors are not working.”
And so she does. At long last, McGowan’s found her voice, with the apotheosis of long-dormant frustrations emerging in a book, a TV show, and a groundswell of online voices she’s dubbed #RoseArmy. She isn’t having a moment so much as she’s defining it.
“My problem is with these stupid motherfuckers in the industry who blacklisted me and blocked off options to do things,” she said — a tacit acknowledgement to the pivotal moment when she tweeted about a request for scantily clad clothing on an Adam Sandler movie and lost her agent as a result. “But they can’t, because they don’t exist in my reality. They don’t fucking matter. If I’ve got a script, you think I’ll go to Hollywood to get money? I was bored with the people around me, so I just created my own movie, my own character. I’m the story of my own movie, and you know what? My movie is going to be better.”
In fact, McGowan’s telling several stories all at once. Just over three months after the first stories about Weinstein’s sexual assault cases hit the news cycle, “Brave” reveals her own encounter with the abusive executive at a hotel during the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, sandwiched between memoirs of a challenging youth, sexist movie shoots, and an emerging philosophy attuned to the tenor of the national conversation. “Brave” was released the same day “Citizen Rose” launched with a 90-minute documentary following her plight over the last several months, from rousing public speeches to a trumped-up drug charge (still pending in court) that may have been an attempt to suppress her rhetoric.
Though the next installments of “Citizen Rose” won’t air until April, the feature-length opening bodes well: At once inhabiting the language of reality television while infusing it with heretofore unseen feminist messaging, it reflects the ambitions of a mixed-media artist keen on subverting her conduit to popular culture. “It’s funny when people say, ‘You’re profiting from #MeToo,’” she said, referring to the movement she rightly takes some credit for giving a boost. “I’m like, ‘Are you insane, idiot?’ Right, a rape victim is never allowed to make money, not on their work. I spent three years busting my ass going through enormous hurdles to write this book.”
The payoff has only begun. As she made her way through a week of television spots ranging from the ladies on “The View” to Stephen Colbert, an all-female camera crew from E! captured her every move, including her current interview with IndieWire. It was a metaphysical extension of McGowan’s rapid-fire creativity to sit within the confines of her self-made universe while discussing the ethos at its core, as a cameraperson zipped from one angle to the next.
She’s a gripping storyteller, with the kind of exuberant delivery that might seem cartoonish if it didn’t throb with intent. A few years ago, her Sundance-approved short “Dawn” suggested the early stirrings of a talented filmmaker. Now she’s not so sure about pursuing that avenue. “People are like, ‘Do you watch movies?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t care,’” she said. “I’ve ceased caring. I can’t watch that construct anymore… I don’t go see movies because I get mad at white males, and their reign of fucking terror, and their access to funding.”
She recalled sitting near Christopher Nolan at the premiere for “Interstellar” in 2014. “I was like, ‘Seriously, dude?’ That’s what you’re going to do with all this money? And there’s Topher Grace walking across the screen. What the fuck? I’m laughing at them. But it makes me angry.”
The irony of McGowan’s ire against the industry in a year of “Wonder Woman” and “Lady Bird,” not to mention Ava DuVernay’s upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time,” does nothing to mollify her anger. “Stop your tokenism,” she said. “Don’t go to micro issues. I don’t care. I care about the big picture.”
After “Dawn,” she said she received only a few offers to develop other projects. One of them was a remake of Eli Roth’s “Cabin Fever” that eventually came out in 2016. “They wanted a female director,” she said. “I read it with my middle finger up the entire time. I saw Eli, and he said, ‘Why don’t you want to do the script?’ And I said, ‘Because it’s racist, sexist, homophobic, and vile.’ They wanted [a pass] on that by getting a female director.”
Despite her aggressive tone, McGowan often spirals back to constructive suggestions. Her book doubles as a self-help manual for men seeking to improve their relationships to women. “I want you guys to think, and be better,” she said, repeating an ethos from “Brave,” imploring men to refine 10 percent of their behavior. “We don’t need to have panels,” she said. “They sit there and count stats and complain about all you guys. I don’t want to complain. I want you to be better. Let’s all grow together.”
McGowan has a unique toolbox at her disposal: more than 20 years of roles that, she now explains, illustrate the limited arena for female characters. Her first mainstream performance, in Wes Craven’s “Scream,” gave her little material beyond the opportunity to get slaughtered by a garage door. The Weinstein incident happened a year later, at which point she seems trapped by a cycle of abuse within the industry and beyond it. She characterizes her plight on “Charmed” as a zombie-like ordeal, and assails former partner Robert Rodriguez for being so abusive to her on the set of “Death Proof” that he forced her to take a lie detector test to prove she wasn’t sleeping with Quentin Tarantino.
“Brave” does away with concentrated prose in favor of moment-to-moment shock and disgust, interspersed with broader observations about the system that enables so many men to get away with abuse. The entertainment-world alternative to Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: A Year Inside the Trump White House,” McGowan’s book consolidates details that may sound familiar as a whole, but are mesmerizing and horrific when confirmed in detail.
“I don’t understand why women in Hollywood want to sit at that table,” she said. “It’s an illusion they built up. We all know male dominance is a lie because the idea of their supremacy is completely based on their ability to rape and kill me. I don’t find that to be supremacy. I find that to be basic.” She uses that word a lot.
With each new outburst, McGowan recedes into another monologue of philosophical assertions, infuriating anecdotes, and injustices. Each cadence — the prevalent f-bombs, the constant interruptions, the self-aggrandizing remarks about the impact of her work — reflects a firebrand activism that has calcified over the past year into an embodiment of the zeitgeist.
There’s no doubt that her various headline-making antics stem from deep-seated convictions. When she blasted Meryl Streep on Twitter for decision to wear all black at the Golden Globes to support the #TimesUp movement (“YOUR SILENCE is THE problem”), Streep responded with a statement assuring the media that she “didn’t know” about Weinstein’s cycle of abuse, then claimed to have given McGowan her phone number so the two could talk through their differences. McGowan, who later deleted the tweet, never rang.
“Why would I call her? I don’t know her,” she said. “I’m not against her. It’s an establishment. I don’t need to fit into their narrative. That would give them power over me. I will not acquiesce. I’m not mad at Meryl Streep. I think she’s probably a good human. But she also helped mythologize a monster, and we all knew he was a monster.”
Does she believe Streep’s claims? “Maybe she lives in such a rarified ecosystem that girls’ rapes never get up to her,” McGowan said. “But I’ll tell you: a lot of these motherfuckers did know.”